Fresh Perspectives Archives – Varsity Branding

Category: Fresh Perspectives

September is Happy Cat Month and Responsible Dog Ownership Month! To honor these observances, we would like to introduce you to the feline friends and canine companions of our staffers. In addition to contributing to a happier, longer  life for older adults, pets have a similar impact on our team. Without further ado, we present the pets of Varsity!

Rocky the Pillow-Fort Creator
Owns: Ellie Weaver, Account Strategist

“This three-year-old boxer makes pillow forts for himself out of the couch cushions. He barks at everything that moves and sometimes at nothing at all.

Louis the Snow Bunny
Owns: Emily Runyon, Account Strategist

Two-year old Louie, a mutt, was adopted as a puppy. This big, happy lazy boy is happiest sitting on your lap (all 75 pounds of him) or in the snow.

Loki the Rodent Connoisseur
Owns: Jace Dawson, Project Manager

Adopted from Heavenly Paws, this 12-year-old feline hates to be inside too long and is the best hunter Jace has ever had. (Loki prefers rodents to birds.)

Mia the Tennis Ball Fanatic
Owns: Emily Runyon, Account Strategist

Adopted as a puppy, five-year-old Mia is obsessed with tennis balls and will do anything for a treat or to bask in the sun.

Sebastian the Cat’s Best Bud
Owns: Jace Dawson, Project Manager

An eight-year-old German Shepherd, Sebastian is loyal to a fault and loves to be vacuumed.

Mila the ZZZ-Catcher
Owns: Renee Kelly, Art Director

Adopted at a year old, ten-year-old Mila made her way to central PA from a shelter in Ohio. She lives her best life through relaxation, naps and walks.

Keno the Complainer
Owns: Jace Dawson, Project Manager

The first (and probably last) pure bred Jace has ever owned, 12-year-old Siberian Husky Keno is bullheaded and loves to complain.

Kylo the Cuddler
Owns: Jace Dawson, Project Manager

This affectionate feline loves to cuddle up on the sofa and in bed, but doesn’t like to be picked up. His snores shake the earth.

That’s our pet project. Here’s to our beloved animals – and yours!

One of the most mispronounced words of 2021 is disrupting senior living communities in 2022.

Near the beginning of December, our participants had heard about the Omicron variant, but it wasn’t impacting them much yet. One marketer said, “The last data I heard was yesterday in our area that there were only nine cases of COVID-19 in our hospital, which is the lowest it’s been since the beginning of the pandemic.”

Another participant commented, “Right now we’re preparing for ‘just in case’ mode, making sure our communities and departments have rapid tests and enough PPE.”

Even during the second week of December, the focus was on planning and throwing holiday parties, not on Omicron. One roundtable participant said, “We’re having all kinds of holiday activities, and it has been fun to come together as a community to do this.”

And when we asked if the Omicron variant was an issue? Responses included:  “I haven’t heard a thing” and “not yet.”

The Holiday Gift Nobody Wanted

Later in December, concern began to mount. “We’re getting anxious about the Omicron variant,” said one participant. “We’re asking families to be cautious and test before visiting. We’re reloading on PPE and N95 masks to use in the buildings for a few weeks. We’re trying to keep things safe through this surge.”

A roundtable member in Arkansas commented, “A lot more folks are taking it more seriously. People are masking up more in the community.” A participant in Illinois added:  “There is an uptick in the Omicron variant around here. We’re offering free testing for the community.” From Wisconsin, we heard: “We’re going to get through Christmas and keep moving forward until after the holiday. We held a clinic last week where 75 people got boosted, including both residents and employees. Everyone is nervous about what’s going to happen with the new variant.”

New Year, New Cases

By the end of the month, communities were shutting down New Year’s Eve parties. One couple received a celebration kit complete with filet mignon, a dessert sampler and party hats after the community’s bash was canceled due to an outbreak among the staff.

Now that Varsity has held its first post-holiday roundtable on January 6, the situation has blown up. With Omicron surging, many communities feel like it’s Groundhog Day — they closed, they opened, and now they’re closed again.

One marketer commented, “COVID-19 has definitely hit here for staff as well as our residents, and all of our areas of long-term care as well as independent living. All of our events where we’re bringing people on-site have been canceled at this time. Private appointments or tours are on a case-by-case basis.”

Reports were similar at another community: “We’ve been hit hard with lots of cases of COVID-19. The state has surged in a big way, like everyone. We’re owned by a hospital system and they offered a drive-through testing to the community. 42% tested positive.”

What Are Your Resolutions for 2022? 

With communities across the country dealing with Omicron, one participant said, “I hear a lot of defeat in people’s voices. We can be very grateful for a lot.”

Another marketer commented, “It’s been a challenging time but there is a lot to be thankful for. We have had a really good year and I think we can have that again. I think the pandemic has caused a lot of fear, but I think it’s more about being cautious. Another participant added, “Once people got vaccinated, things got into a bit more normal living. And now it’s taken a big swing back right now. It isn’t going to be like this forever.”

Some roundtable members felt that we’ll get used to it. “Hopefully it will be like the flu in the future and we just get a booster shot, just like the flu has a different variant.” And one last comment: “I think we will just start accepting this new reality for restrictions for safety.”

Let’s all resolve to think positive and support one another in 2022! We’re looking forward to coming together this week. You’re welcome to join our Sales & Marketing Roundtable on Thursdays at noon ET, 11 a.m. CT and 9 a.m. PT.

For login information, email DDunham@varsitybranding.com.

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” Those are the words of John Wanamaker (1838–1922), a very successful United States merchant, religious leader and political figure, considered by some to be a pioneer in marketing.

Anyone who is a marketer for senior living communities can relate to that statement. But there is a way to know where your marketing dollars are really going, and it’s by harnessing your data using predictive analytics.

That concept was the focus of a 2021 LeadingAge Conference session, “Predictive Analytics: Connecting Past Performance to Future Success,” a joint presentation by Varsity, its sister agency WildFig Data and Ingleside Senior Living.

“Retirement communities in general are data rich and insight poor,” says John Bassounas, Partner at Varsity. “Sometimes when it comes to analytics and data, people get overwhelmed. Really, at the end of the day our job is to simplify that process and deliver insights that can help communities make better decisions.”

During these challenging times, harnessing your data is especially important. “As an outgrowth of COVID-19,” John says, “everyone is trying to figure out the role of digital — how organizations can establish a competitive advantage. Data is the way to do that.”

A Progressive Partner

Varsity and WildFig have been fortunate to partner with Ingleside, a forward-thinking, multi-site, nonprofit senior living organization located in the Washington, D.C., area. “Data analysis was a leadership initiative at Ingleside,” says John. “It started at the top, and leadership identified data analytics as a key priority for their organization. In doing so, they partnered with us, and we became an extension of their team.”

“This is a visionary client,” agrees Derek Dunham, Vice President Client Services at Varsity. “They have established team members focused on the digital experience in analytics — they see the value in it. They have been an early adopter of data mining and analytics.”

Here are some key takeaways from the LeadingAge presentation based on our work with Ingleside:

1.  Consider all of the digital elements as an ecosystem, not siloed tactics.

“One of the goals here is to make sure that we’re not just looking at isolated tactics. We need to assess the impact of the entire digital ecosystem of paid, owned and earned media,” says Derek.

“From a marketing perspective, understanding the relationship between the various tactics and strategies to the overall program is incredibly valuable, because we want to optimize the plan for the best results.”

“For Ingleside, an important part of the ecosystem is a fresh website that is newly programmed using all the modern tools. Technology is always changing. With a new website, we don’t have to dumb down any of the analytics because the site can plug into analytics and pull data easily.

2. Embrace the process — Each organization is at a different stage with their analytics and modernization journey.

“It’s important for any organization to have the mindset that this is a process,” says Derek. “It’s not going to be a one-off project; it’s a culture. It’s an ongoing initiative that needs to be fed over time. I would say, assess what you have and get going. Taking the first step is important as this process is never ‘done’ — there are always opportunities to refine, test and learn.”

“Some organizations might think, ‘We don’t have all the data we need.’ Others may think, ‘We have too much data.’ Don’t let a lack of data stand in the way of proceeding with initiatives,” John says. “The first thing you need to ask is, ‘What is the question that you want to answer, and how can data make that happen?’”

3. Start with the big questions — Others will emerge.

“Starting with the big questions means, don’t get mired down in the details,” Derek says. “First think about what are the big questions you want to have answered. A question might seem too big initially, but you’ll be able to break it down into smaller questions and put together a manageable process.”

As an example, here are some of the questions that Ingleside wanted to answer:

  • How do we reach and maintain 95% occupancy?
  • How can we use data to make informed decisions?
  • How can we predict future outcomes?
  • Should the website be redesigned and merged under one URL?

4. Think not just about outcomes, but about implementation, and how to create a dynamic feedback loop.

“It’s an iterative process, and you’re constantly going to be refining it,” says Derek. “You want to look at the outcomes at a point in time. With this process, you are able to have confidence that you can pull your data at any point in time and get answers.”

Once the loop is established, John says, “We can either look backward at what has happened, or we can look forward to help inform what we’d like to have happen or predict outcomes.”

5. Customize the sales experience through predictive modeling.

“The overall goal of data analytics is to be able to understand the data to provide prospects with a customized experience — making the entire process from a marketing and sales perspective more efficient,” Derek says.

“For organizations like Ingleside, we’re doing that through a predictive modeling tool that does two things — predicts what lead volume will be, and assigns a lead score to every prospect in their database. We’ll be able to map each prospect’s customer journey and know the likelihood of their becoming a depositor at each interaction with the salesperson,” says John. “This map can be generated for every prospect, providing an easily digestible way to monitor the sales process.”

Why is that so important? “We all know that it takes anywhere from 20 to 30 touches for somebody to move in,” says Derek. “The more we can make those touches relevant and purposeful and efficient, the better. Through that process, we also make the salesperson’s time efficient, because they’re dealing with the people who are most predisposed to buying. We’re offering the salesperson better information so they are better able to connect with the right prospects.”

If you’d like the Varsity team to take you through the presentation in more detail, please contact John Bassounas at JBassounas@varsitybranding.com or Derek Dunham at DDunham@varsitybranding.com.

 

This November, many participants in our Thursday roundtables commented that leads are still pouring in. One marketer said, “We’re getting inquiries like crazy.” Another agreed, “It’s been our strongest year in 10 years.”

But even the busiest communities are working hard to capitalize on every lead and plan for the future. While other people were getting ready to pass the potatoes, our participants were passing around both new and tried-and-true sales and marketing approaches that are working for them:

1. Keep resident encounters casual. “We are seeing success with holding more casual events where prospects can mingle with residents versus having a more formal resident panel (which can be viewed as too scripted), so prospects can ask more specific questions about things not being presented here.”

2. Stay in touch. “There are usually about eight to nine articles in the marketing newsletter highlighting all the things we’re doing within the community,” said one participant. “Our sales team says prospects comment on it all the time.”

3. Stop talking, start listening. “People need someone who listens, not somebody who talks,” said a marketer. “I worked with a sales guy who was a master of the art of silence. He’d ask a question, and he’d stop talking. If you can stop talking long enough, the other person will start talking and open up.”

4. Overcome objections. Now that COVID-19 is slowing down, people are back to the classic excuses for not making the move. Here are some comebacks our participants found effective:

Objection: “I’m not ready yet.”

Answer: “I completely understand; however, can I ask what your hesitation is?”

Objection: “Wow, there’s a lot of old people here.”

Answer: “That’s because we take such good care of people, they live to a ripe old age.”

5. Update your floor plans. “We’re filling larger apartments, but it’s the smaller apartments that are harder to sell,” said one marketer. “We’re having work done, taking a wall down to make a bigger living space. People want their kitchen table, they don’t need that second bedroom.”

6. Offer trial stays. “There is a program that a community offers where if they stay one month, they get the second one free. Marketing it that way has been successful for them,” said a participant. “There is also a community that does a Safe & Warm program, which has been very successful for them when offering people to come in and live at the community on a trial basis during the winter months.”

7. Automate insights. “We’re trying to wrap up and create a sense of urgency now, so people move in the beginning of the year,” said one marketer. “We integrated some automated marketing in our database, and that’s really delivered some tangible results from our sales team. It’s giving us insights into our inquires and visits to our websites.

We’d like to leave you with one final thought: Normalize life again. “We need to remind people that there is a life to be lived,” said one participant. Another said, “It’s not entirely business as normal, but the more we act like it is, the better.”

Look for our next monthly roundtable recap in your inbox. Until then, please be sure to join our weekly Sales & Marketing Roundtable on Thursdays at noon ET, 11 a.m. CT and 9 a.m. PT.

For login information, email DDunham@varsitybranding.com.

 

 

 

Today we’re talking to Sadiya Abjani, Director of Learning & Equity at SAGE, the world’s largest and oldest organization focused on advocacy and services for LGBT elders. SAGECare, SAGE’s cultural competency training and credentialing program, provides training and consulting services to elder care providers. SAGECare also offers the added benefit of providing qualifying agencies with a national accreditation to highlight the percentage of trained staff.

Sadiya was kind enough to answer some questions about SAGECare and its training program.

Why should your organization hold LGBT trainings?

“There are many reasons why LGBT training courses are incredibly important for elder care providers,” says Sadiya. “The SAGECare mission is in line with that of elder care communities, to make sure LGBT people are taken care of, that elders are aging with grace.”

“There are many community members that have experienced a great deal of violence and discrimination, and some of that discrimination comes at the hands of medical professionals,” she continues. “Up until 1973, homosexuality was a diagnosable medical condition. An individual could lose everything after that diagnosis. That stigma and fear doesn’t go away. Decades of lack of access to treatment, and mistreatment, are causing people to fear accessing care. Folks are delaying care because they don’t think healthcare providers will treat them with dignity and respect. There is a deep feeling of ‘I won’t feel safe.’ SAGECare training will walk you through preparing for and working through all of that with your clients.”

Although the primary mission in these trainings isn’t monetary, there is a financial component, explains Sadiya. “Boomer consumers are values-based consumers. It’s a huge market and it’s constantly growing. In the under-40 segment, the percentages of LGBT population are even higher,” she says. “Over the next 20–25 years, that market will grow even more. It’s better to do that work early and set your company up for success in the long run.”

What are some of the benefits of getting the SAGECare credential?

“The biggest benefit is that SAGECare is the oldest and largest national credential,” Sadiya says. “Elders reach out to us for care, services and information. Getting the credential on an organization’s website becomes incredibly useful. Folks are also going to our website and are searching for credentialed providers in their area. SAGECare provides that repository of physicians who have been trained to take care of LGBT elders.”

Can you talk about your background and why you work at SAGE?

“I have been in the social justice field for my entire adult life,” says Sadiya. “Previously, I developed training curriculum around fair housing, disability justice, and immigrant rights, and worked on issues related to the shelter systems. While doing this work, I was connected with SAGE through a toolkit I built for a study they had just done about housing discrimination. I started doing trainings for SAGE, and I fell in love with the people that work here and the organization. I saw a job opening and I applied, and it changed my life. I’ve worked here for six years. I love the individuals I get to work with. I learn and I grow every single day. Our mission is to ensure that those individuals who struggled and fought and sacrificed so much for dignity, for justice — those individuals who have paved the way for me to live my identity — get the best care. And it’s not just for them. All of us age. I’m working for a better future, so that I can live my identity out loud. I want to age safely; I want to have good care. This mission resonates with me in many ways.”

What is the most important thing we need to know about LGBT training?

“The most important thing is that this community exists, they are aging, and they are not being cared for in the way that they need,” says Sadiya. “This training sets you up to do your job well for this population.”

In part II of this series, we’ll cover nine truths you need to know about LGBT training. Click here to read the post.

For more information or if you’d like to schedule a training for your organization, email sabjani@sageusa.org.

 

 

The treats for senior living communities this October included lots of interest from prospects. The tricky part? Staffing issues and COVID-19-related restrictions made it tough for some organizations to take advantage of the momentum.

The Treats: Lots of Tours, Applications and Deposits 

A participant in Washington state said, “Four of our areas (apartments, memory care, assisted living and duplexes) are all 100% full, and I’m not sure that’s ever been the case.” Another marketer in California agreed that business continues to be strong. “We’re going to have 10 move-ins in October. It’s really exciting to see.”  And there’s good news from Arkansas as well:  “Sales for our new neighborhood are good, with 43 of 53 units sold.”

Communities are also trying creative new tactics for bringing in business. One participant from Wisconsin said, “We’ve been really rocking and rolling. For the first time, we offered a promotion of 10% off the entrance fee to people who sign up now, and we’ve had lots of success with it.”

The Tricks: COVID-19 Restrictions and Staff Shortages

Scary Shutdowns 

Something that could scare off prospects: Communities shutting down to visitors because of local COVID-19 restrictions. One marketer shared, “We’re talking about taking everything online again.” A second participant said, “We’re unable to do events, so it’s frustrating.” And a third marketer added, “I’m seeing more restrictions. It’s sad having to see people tap the brakes.”

In some cities, however, it’s nearly business as usual. One participant from Virginia said, “Our team members are all fully vaccinated — it’s a requirement, and I think that’s helped because a lot of prospects asked that question. We’ve been busy giving tours and adding people to the waiting list.”

Creative Hybrid Events

One way of solving the dilemma when prospects are worried about attending in-person seminars: Hold a hybrid event. “As far as marketing events, we have a hybrid event — in person and on Zoom as well, so people can choose to do either,“ a participant shared.

Industry-Wide Staff Shortages

Staffing shortages continue to be a roadblock to sales. One marketer shared, “We’re getting calls and inquiries, but we don’t have enough staff to keep up with the volume …  we had to turn down seven people last week who wanted to move in!” A participant in Arkansas agreed. “Our nursing home is desperately looking for staff and we’re having a difficult time finding applicants.” Another marketer shared, “This is the #1 thing on everyone’s minds — how will we deal with this?” One final comment: “We have a waitlist that’s two pages long. We don’t have the staff at the higher levels of care to cover all the interest.”

Innovative Solutions for Recruiting Staff

When we asked participants if they’d found any effective methods for recruitment in these challenging times, they shared these creative ideas:

  • Drive-through career fairs: “We had another drive-through career fair in August, which was successful. They have been fun and an interesting way to get people onto campus.”
  • Diversity and inclusion: “We have a resident committee here working hard at looking at diversity and inclusion.”
  • Salary hikes: “The board moved our minimum starting wage to $15 per hour, so some will get up to a 40% raise in November.”
  • Using staffing firms: Several firms participated in the recent LeadingAge conference, including: Fusion Medical Staffing, Gale Healthcare Solutions, Hireology, OnShift, Intelycare, Prime Time Healthcare  and ShiftMed.  (Varsity is not endorsing any of these firms; rather, merely providing information.)

Holiday Tactics for Targeting Adult Children

Heading into the holidays, some communities are targeting adult children (but not necessarily with in-person events). One participant shared, “We changed our media messages to target adult children more.” Another marketer said, “We put together a one-sheet guide of tips on how to talk about things with your parents.” A third community published an article in a local magazine about ways to connect with adult children who are raising their kids and caring for their parents as well.

Notes From the 2021 LeadingAge Conference

Held October 24-27 in Atlanta, Georgia, the first LeadingAge conference since COVID-19 had lighter attendance than usual, but some fascinating presentations. The major focus? “Technology, technology, technology,” said Derek Dunham, who attended with his Varsity colleagues. For instance, Amazon launched its new senior living product with an enterprise solution. You can read about it in this Senior Housing News article. Varsity, sister firm WildFig Data and Ingleside also presented a session with a technology focus: “Predictive Analytics: Connecting Past Performance to Future Success.”

Look for our next monthly roundtable recap in your inbox. Until then, please be sure to join our weekly Sales & Marketing Roundtable on Thursdays at noon ET, 11 a.m. CT and 9 a.m. PT.

For login information, email DDunham@varsitybranding.com.

Guest post by Andrew Leech, Vice President, Operations Management Services, Greystone Communities

Today Andrew Leech is expanding on some of the ideas he shared in his recent presentation at The Greystone Event 2021, “The Art of the Pivot: Addressing Operational Challenges.”

With all the tragedy that has come with the pandemic, we’ve learned a couple of things. In a 24/7 operation, we never have the opportunity to retool and reopen and reboot. COVID-19 has been awful and terrible for our residents and industry, but one of the positives coming out the other side is the lessons we’ve learned. It would be a real shame to go back to the old normal.

Some of the lessons communities have learned:

  • Residents can adopt and use technology far faster than we gave them credit for.
  • Society is more open to doing things a little differently now than it did a year-and-a-half ago, so why waste this opportunity to improve and secure the future of our communities?
  • In every facet of our operations, now is the time to change.

One caveat: There is a strong regulatory component in what we do, which means some things are not going to change as fast as we’d like them to. Guidelines and restrictions are going to impact our changes.

Here are some areas that I feel communities should be looking at:

Recruiting

We’ve had hiring challenges in health care for many, many years. There has been a nursing shortage and not enough nurses to replace those that left. Now the challenges are even greater, with other industries raising their wages during COVID-19. How are we going to compete for talent with other sectors? How can we help lower costs to help pay for talent? We’ve often pitched how strong our operations were, saying things like: “You would be lucky to come and work for such a fine organization that treats employees well.” In this market, rather than say, “You’d be fortunate to work for us,” it’s a natural shift to say, “We would really love the opportunity to have you be a part of our team.”

We need to change our approach to how we’re recruiting talent in a market this tight. We spend an awful lot of time and money to attract residents and get them through the sales process. We need to start to take some of those funds and have the same vested interest in appealing to employees. Some specific tactics communities can implement:

  • Pay for time spent during the screening process
  • Make sure your community has a director level position for HR
  • Partner with a Professional Employer Organization (PEO)
  • Text candidates within five minutes of their application hitting the portal (the younger generation doesn’t read emails)
  • Offer seven days on and seven days off in skilled nursing care, or four days of 10-hour shifts — think creatively about how to offer work/life balance.

Retention

We have teams that have been through hell and back during the last 18 months to two years. We need to show them that they’re appreciated for the sacrifices they’ve made. And we also have to be realistic about our expectations for retention: A year for a certified nurse’s aide or a server is actually quite good.

Ideas for retention will vary in every single market. Offering employee meals is a great start — but we can’t just stop there. Here are some other options, many of which are also strong recruitment tools:

  • Retention bonuses. We believe that a better approach to bonuses is to space them out and incentivize even further someone’s desire to stay with the company. Part of the bonuses may come at three months, six months, nine months, a year.
  • Day care. Some communities are looking at spaces on their properties for day care and figuring how to license and run a center. We’re in the research stages, and I do have leaders of communities telling me that day care would make a huge impact. Having day care on-site simplifies people’s lives. Imagine being able to drop your child right at your workplace and go into your job each day.
  • Flexible schedules. Gone are the days that if an employee can’t work weekends, they can’t be a part of your team. Now it can be mutually beneficial to be flexible to meet the needs of each individual. We can give team members the life balance that they’re looking for, and they can provide excellent experiences to the residents.
  • Attractive employee lounges and locker rooms. We need to evaluate employee areas and solicit team feedback to determine if they are welcoming.
  • Fee structure reviews and involvement of residents. COVID-19 strengthened that desire to help, because folks have very strong ties to members of the staff and their teams. The pandemic made us all re-evaluate what’s important. The residents have realized that their communities are not the same without these amazing team members who are working hard and sacrificing day in and day out. We had actually proposed a rate increase at one of our communities, and one of the members of the resident council came to the director and asked whether that number was going to be sufficient to pay their staff a living wage. He was invested in making sure the staff were well taken care of.

Infection Control

Because of the extra precautions communities have taken during COVID-19, we’ve had tremendous success in keeping the flu at bay this past year. Through tools like visitation restrictions, PPE and social distancing, we’ve shown we can control infections very, very effectively. That’s going to be the expectation moving forward. The challenge is, how do we eliminate the spread of infection, while still having communities that are more open with visitors?

Finding Efficiencies

Here’s an example of how we need to work more efficiently: If you have a housekeeper going to three different floors in a main building, as well as villas and cottages and garden homes, are you sacrificing a lot of time and energy in having that person traveling from place to place? This is now an opportunity to reboot services like housekeeping. Let’s break out the community in a way that is far more efficient for travel time. We’re looking for little opportunities to do things smarter.

Dining Innovations

Before COVID-19, dining in was not heavily utilized — and was not experientially the best. What we did learn during the pandemic was that there’s a way to do it well and inexpensively. We strongly believe, moving forward, that there is going to be demand for in-room dining to augment regular dining. We see this through the success of services like Grubhub, Door Dash and Uber Eats. Customers are looking to have great dining experiences with gourmet food in the comfort of their own homes — and seniors are going to be no different.

Stay Virtual

What we’ve learned from our residents’ eager adoption of technology is that virtual programs will always be in demand. Make sure your community keeps up by continuing to offer them and learning to do them better.

These are just small examples of how the need to change runs throughout the entire operation. It could be that in five to 10 years, our community buses will be driving themselves. Something along those lines is coming, so we’d better be ready.

People are more receptive to new ideas than they have been in years, so let’s take advantage of that opportunity. We don’t want to lose the chance to change and go back to doing things the way we’ve done for years and years and years. However, we also don’t want people to run to their communities with all these ideas and try to cram them all in at once. That’s not going to be successful for them. Each market may have different demands.

Fast and Simple Changes

Our focus is on providing small takeaways that everyone can do something with. For example, when was the last time you did a wage analysis in your market? If it’s a year old, the analysis is highly out of date. If it’s not done in the last 90 days, you can’t trust it.

Those are quick, easy things you can do: reviewing fees, involving residents, reassessing culture, looking for opportunities to be more efficient — those are actions that would be advantageous to any operation. It’s important to do the work to figure out what’s going to be most impactful to your team and operations. Now is the time to start to ask these questions and look into these issues.

A Short Window of Opportunity

You have a window of time to make these changes. You have receptive residents, prospective residents and staff. The trick is, you can’t sit on your hands and not do anything or the window will close. Eventually people will wipe these circumstances from their memories and we’ll continue on like we did before.

Our call to action is:Please don’t do nothing.” If you do nothing, you’re going to be left behind. You can’t waste this opportunity, and if you do waste it, it will have longstanding effects on the financial health and stability of your community for years to come.

Seeing the Glass Half Full

I’d like to end this on an optimistic note. Should we feel optimistic or pessimistic about the future, knowing all that has happened? I choose to look at this through a positive lens. We have had some teams that went through some extremely difficult, once-in-a-lifetime challenges, and the people who have stuck around have built more stamina and become more capable, more resilient and more optimistic. We now have these folks on our team who have managed through a huge crisis, and they will be able to draw on these experiences should, and when, the next crisis comes along. This is an industry that has been challenged by many, many things, from 9/11 to the Great Recession and now COVID-19. There are always going to be challenges. We need to take away what we excelled in and what we learned during this crisis to help our operations get stronger and more secure in the future. We believe that the future is bright.

The senior living industry is regaining speed after COVID-19, with some good surprises — and some challenges. One participant had a conversation recently in which she compared the current industry environment to a train, saying, “It takes a little time to get it going, but we continue to chug along, and we’re getting there.”

Read on for 7 takeaways from a month of conversations with communities across the country.

1.  Leads are flooding in, especially in independent living.

Communities are seeing a lot of activity — even if they’re not holding events yet.

2. The American Rescue Plan gives communities the opportunity to get funds from local government.

A lot of dialogue this month centered around the  American Rescue Plan and how senior living communities can get a stake of those funds. The money can go to any community, but nonprofit organizations have a strong story to tell. So if you fall into this category and serve seniors, you are positioned well to receive funding, as long as you know who to ask, according to Seth Anthony, a roundtable participant and Marketing & Business Development Manager at LW Consulting.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to receive these funds,  click here or contact Seth directly.

3. Marketing higher levels of care is a challenge.

Leads and sales for care higher up the continuum are improving, but lagging behind independent living. One reason for that is competition with communities that have lifted restrictions.

Another roadblock is staffing issues. One participant shared about having trouble hiring enough employees to meet staffing requirements for a higher level of care.

4. COVID-19 safety concerns are down.

Prospects’ concerns about safety and precautions related to COVID have lessened considerably.

5. Questions about the post-COVID experience are up.

Many prospects are now concerned about whether restrictions on dining, programming and visiting have been removed. They are ready to get back to normal. One roundtable participant said, “COVID-19 seems to be out of the picture, but our team is getting questions such as, ‘Can I visit as a prospect?,’ ‘Can family visit me if I move in?’ and ‘Are your dining rooms open?’”

6. Communities are offering incentives for staff vaccinations.

More team members have gotten the vaccine, but the percentages are still lower than for residents. Communities are using tools such as education, one-on-one meetings and incentives to boost participation rates.

7. Some communities have seen leads and move-ins skew younger.

Some participants are noticing that the average age of leads and move-ins is lower than it’s been in the past few years. One marketer said, “We’ve had several (new residents) in their 60s and early 70s. We’re definitely seeing a trend here. There is some feeling that after being cooped up during COVID-19, people are drawn to this environment.”

All in all, it’s been a great month! Sales counselors are busy, phones are ringing, events are well-attended and communities are filling apartments that have been empty for a long time. One participant even said, “I’ve been here 17 years and I can’t remember a time where we’ve seen the interest we have recently.”

Look for our next monthly roundtable recap in your inbox. Until then, please be sure to join our weekly Sales & Marketing Roundtable on Thursdays at noon ET and 11 a.m. CT.

For login information, email DDunham@varsitybranding.com.

 

 

 

 

 

Many people thought it would take senior living years and years to recover from the COVID-19 virus. But this May, Varsity’s Sales & Marketing Roundtable participants were feeling resounding optimism! Their positive experiences with leads and move-ins are echoed in communities across the country, as we found through a presentation by Lana Peck of the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC) in our last roundtable of the month, where she shared statistics about the  state of senior living.

Here are 10 takeaways from this month’s roundtable:

  1. Momentum is positive. Leads and move-ins are on the upswing. One participant in New Jersey said, “We have a small memory care wait list, which we haven’t seen since the pandemic started!” Another participant in Arkansas said, “Tours are way up. Leads are coming in strong.” From Pennsylvania, the news was, “IL is booming. Our small carriage home project is going well with 15 of 16 reserved.” And from Washington state: “We’re also super busy moving in people. There’s so much going on, our sales team can’t even keep up with it.”
  2. Staffing issues are still challenging. One participant said, “We are definitely having challenges. We used to struggle with nursing positions, but now it’s across all departments. We’ve been offering between $2,000 and $5,000 [as a] signing bonus. Another community shared a tip: “We held our Drive-In Career Fair yesterday and had 27 candidates show up.”
  3. The hot housing market helps. “The housing market is really hot and there are not enough houses, removing the challenge of selling your home,” said one participant from Illinois.
  4. People are “Zoomed out.” But that’s OK, since in-person events, especially outdoors, are back! “The turnout for in-person events has been strong and there’s a lot of interest,” said one participant.
  5. Mask updates are confusing. “Some of our campus is under one set of guidelines and some is under another set of guidelines,” said one attendee in Washington state. “It’s really confusing. We’re developing bullets to outline what our residents can and can’t do, depending on what buildings they are going in and out of.”
  6. Communities have to get used to holding in-person events again. “We had our first in-person event yesterday after a year and three months,” said one marketer. “It went OK — you forget things like putting pens and pads on tables — it’s been a long time! It was very well received. We just had some minor hiccups and need to remind ourselves of how to do in-person events again.”
  7. More team members are getting vaccinated. “Our staff is showing more interest in getting vaccinated and we’re at 66% right now. We think they are feeling more comfortable now that they’ve seen [that] others haven’t had negative reactions,” said one participant. Other communities are providing cash incentives and not requiring weekly tests if employees are vaccinated. One community even created videos of staff members explaining why it’s a good idea to get the vaccine. “It helped get us over 70%,” the participant said.
  8. There’s a lot of buzz around mandating the vaccine. There’s a desire to mandate the vaccine, and some communities have started to do this, but our prediction is that we’ll be hearing much more about this, especially the legal implications.
  9. It’s a struggle to re-engage residents. As discussed on a call with LeadingAge D.C., there’s a current struggle in getting Memory Care residents to re-engage because they’ve been in their rooms for 14 months.
  10. Move-ins are trending higher. Findings presented by Lana Peck of NIC back up participant experiences: Across all three levels of care, move-ins are up, move-outs are down, and traffic and leads are strong. Details below.

NIC Executive Survey Insights with Lana Peck

  • Lana Peck, Senior Principal from the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC), attended the roundtable and shared insights from the latest wave of NIC’s Executive Survey.
    • A few high points:
      • Nursing care occupancy fell more than IL and AL — 12.5 points vs. 8.7 points. Senior housing declined 8.7 points over the course of the pandemic; that includes IL and AL. Nursing care fell the most, by 12.5 points. So, COVID-19 hit nursing properties especially hard.
      • Vaccinations have fallen off — right now, they are at 90% for residents and about 65% for employees.
      • A smaller share of properties have 90% or more occupancy — only 24% in the first quarter of 2021 versus 54% in the first quarter of 2020.
    • On the bright side:
      • An acceleration in the pace of move-ins is clearly trending, and the pace of move-outs is either staying the same or decelerating.
      • In March, we may have reached an inflection point in occupancy.
      • In IL, 56% of communities said they have seen an increase in occupancy.
      • Lead volume is increasing. Encouragingly, we’re seeing a growing number of organizations reaching lead volumes at pre-pandemic levels.
      • Rent discounts, free rent and rent freezes have been increasingly used as incentives to boost occupancy. Most of the C-suite operators and owners who were questioned believe that occupancy will reach pre-pandemic levels in a year or two.

See more details of Wave 28 of the NIC survey here.

We hope that move-ins, reopenings and vaccination rates continue to rise in June. Look for the next monthly recap of our roundtable discussions in your inbox.

Until then, please be sure to join our weekly Sales & Marketing Roundtable on Thursdays at noon ET and 11 a.m. CT.

For login information, email DDunham@varsitybranding.com.

 

 

The month started out on a hopeful tone, with some hesitancy mid-month, but in general, April seems to have ended quite positively for most participants of Varsity’s weekly roundtables! Restrictions have generally eased, although this varies from state to state. Many marketers are talking about a spike in leads, and a lot of success with more tours and people ready to make a move. People are indicating that they are “feeling good or great.”

Here are seven takeaways from our April roundtables:

  1. Sales are up. Way up.

Contrary to prior months when “people just weren’t ready,” the dam is breaking. Some positive words from our participants:

“We had a good month in IL and sold eight homes. There’s been so much pent-up demand, and people are ready to get out and ready to move, although spring is typically the busiest time. The real estate market is great. All of those things combined have contributed to a great month.”

“We’re doing better than we have in months for tours and move-ins.”

“The last few deposits I’ve received have been pretty quick. People have been thinking about it for a while and are ready to make a decision.”

  1. Digital is hotter than ever.

One marketer shared, “A majority of leads are coming from the internet and family referrals. Really the online space is what’s driving the most traffic.”

According to another participant, “We’ve been super busy with a lot more leads (especially email leads). We do a lot of digital ads, which direct people to our website to fill out a form. We also get a lot of requests through our autochat.” Another participant shared the love for online marketing, saying, “We have that constant flow to the website. It’s been a nice flow in light of us not making a huge effort.”

  1. Outdoor events are popular, with virtual still in the mix.

One community hosted an outdoor Earth Day event. “It’s a grab-and-go event, and the purpose of it is to get people to step on our property, get a goodie bag and say hello,” the participant explained. Another community is focusing on virtual seminars: “We had 14 people join the first one (on incontinence, promoting our short-term rehab offering) and it went really well. Tonight’s webinar is a food demo (brownies with blood orange-infused olive oil).”

  1. Staging is selling.

Many communities find staging to be a tried-and-true, but highly effective, tool that sells units faster.

“We have a flat rate with someone local who does our staging, and these apartments always go quickly when people see what she’s done,” said one participant. Another community calls the area where future residents can select their finishes their “Design Center.” New residents can pick paint colors, finishes, flooring, etc. Another participant also referenced the staging of AL apartments as a marketing tactic.

  1. Marketing AL to IL residents is working.

Some communities are finding that their best customers for AL are already living on campus in IL.

“We actually did an open house with our IL residents to showcase AL,” one marketer said. “We had four AL residents show their apartments, so residents can see what it looks like living in an AL residence. Another community had a different tactic: “Moving forward, I would consider inviting the IL family members to our next open house to showcase AL.”

  1. There are almost too many CRM choices.

Marketers have a bewildering number of choices in Customer Relationship Management systems (CRMs), with a wide array of high-tech bells and whistles. One participant said, “We use Enquire and have for a little over a year. It has a marketing automation platform called MAP that we’re in the process of implementing now. It looks like a very robust platform.” Another marketer commented, “We use MatrixCare Marketing for everything. It’s a good system.” Other communities referenced using Sherpa, SharpSpring, Mailchimp, RHS, HubSpot and Yardi.

  1. Staffing issues are rampant.

Staffing in senior living has always been a challenge, but in the post-COVID environment, the competition for team members is even more competitive. One participant said, “As we’re staffing up our new building, literally no one has applied for housekeeping.” Another marketer commented, “We’ve hired a few people, but within a week or two they get paid more somewhere else. We’re having a hard time with the pay scale. They just don’t stay.”

One community has found a solution: “We’ve offered a signing bonus with a time limit, so we know that we will at least keep them until that bonus.” Another participant, who is having a particularly hard time filling CNA positions, said, “We started our own CNA school and do all of the training at our community, which has helped a lot.”

Here’s hoping May is filled with more good news, from reopenings to move-ins! Look for our next recap of our roundtable discussions in your inbox.

Until then, please be sure to join our weekly Sales & Marketing Roundtable on Thursdays at noon ET and 11 a.m. CT.

For login information, email DDunham@varsitybranding.com.

 

 

As the long-awaited vaccine arrives in senior living, some communities are using access to it as a selling tool to attract potential residents. But should they proceed with caution?

This topic, which has come up in Varsity’s Sales & Marketing Roundtable, has also caught the attention of McKnight’s Senior Living. In this recent article, they reached out to Derek Dunham, Varsity’s VP of Client Services, for his take on the issue. Read the full story here.

 

Last Wednesday, we held our first monthly virtual Continuing Care at Home Roundtable! A group of professionals from across the country pooled their knowledge and shared sales and marketing tactics that are succeeding during COVID-19.

Please join us for our next Continuing Care at Home Roundtable on Wednesday, March 3, 2021, at noon ET.

For login information, email DDunham@varsitybranding.com. 

At our 42nd sales and marketing roundtable, we learned how residents are eagerly getting the vaccine (and communities are telling the world), but team members are dragging their feet.

Check out the recap below, and please join us for our next virtual discussions this week: our new Continuing Care At Home Roundtable, to be held the first Wednesday of the month, and our regular weekly Sales & Marketing Roundtable every Thursday.

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, February 4, 2021, at noon ET.

We will also be starting a similar Continuing Care At Home Roundtable discussion, to be held the first Wednesday of the month. Our first meeting will be Wednesday, February 3, at noon ET.

To receive login information for one or both roundtables, email DDunham@varsitybranding.com.

At our 41st weekly sales and marketing roundtable, the mood was on the upswing as the vaccine gave inquiries and sales at communities around the country a boost.

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, January 28, at noon ET.

For login information, email DDunham@varsitybranding.com.

 

 

At our first sales & marketing roundtable of the new year, communities discussed the exciting news of the COVID-19 vaccine and shared tips for virtual events and video floor plans.

 

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, January 14, 2021, at noon ET.

For login information, please contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

I’m Renee Kelly, and I’m an art director at Varsity. I design all kinds of  advertising for Varsity’s clients — including the blogs for the weekly COVID-19 sales & marketing roundtables. Attending the roundtables has impacted my point of view on the pandemic: I’ve seen up-close its effects on communities, staff and vulnerable residents. For me, the last 9+ months of roundtables have become an unofficial timeline of the COVID-19 crisis in our industry.

When the pandemic first hit, there were so many unknowns. We didn’t know how bad it would get, or how much it would impact seniors. Marketing came to a halt when everyone quickly realized that the traditional tools like tours and in-person events wouldn’t work. The focus shifted to be less on occupancy and more on keeping residents safe and healthy. At Varsity, we also had to quickly shift our focus to better suit our clients’ changing needs.

One thing that struck me from early on were concerns about isolation, especially for residents in memory care. One quote:

WEEK 3: “Those with cognitive impairment don’t understand the situation and feel that they are being punished in their rooms.”

That was specifically the quote that hit me the hardest, and has stuck with me over the last nine months.

Soon after that, communities started reporting their first cases in residents and staff:

WEEK 4: “We have our first positive case and we are working with Varsity on a communications plan.”

Through all of the uncertainty, communities (even competitors) were working together. A community on the West Coast and a community on the East Coast even planned to connect after one call to discuss a shared challenge.

We gradually got into the groove of the “new normal” and communities started to plan virtual events. At a little over three months, we realized we were probably in it for the long haul.

WEEK 14: “There is no ‘end of COVID’ that we can see.”

The issue of family, and how to safely visit, came up time and time again. From drive-by visits to video calls, communities tried everything.

WEEK 22: “Residents are lonely and want to be around family.”

The next few weeks added additional stresses to 2020.

WEEK 26: “We’re discouraged — now we have fires! One of the fires is cutting off the entrance of our new community, so people can’t visit.”

COVID-19 had crept into a few of the communities of those on the calls.

WEEK 34: “I feel blessed and fortunate. We’ve only had 6 cases, 5 of which were employees. Cases are going up around us, but we’ve managed to stay safe.”

We were hearing a broad range of emotions. People wanted to be optimistic, but were fearful of letting down their guard. And, as communities found creative ways of reaching seniors who were feeling isolated at home, occupancy began to rise.

WEEK 35: “We’ve sold four apartments in October due to concessions offered, eight since we started the concessions at the end of August.”

Where are we now? In many states, the numbers are going in the wrong direction.

WEEK 36: “We were so proud that we kept COVID-19 out of here until this last week. It’s having a whole new impact on us.”

But communities are feeling hopeful as the vaccine has received approval.

 WEEK 37: “We’re hoping that a vaccine can help us turn the corner.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, I feel that Varsity’s roundtables have given communities a place to come together to share ideas, successes and concerns, or just vent. And the emails and survey responses people have sent seem to confirm that:

“Appreciate you and the Varsity team taking the time to coordinate these calls and share with all of us!”

“Thank you for setting up these very informative roundtable discussions. We will be applying much of what you have recapped.”

“I greatly appreciate the communication and listening to peers facing the same challenges.”

“Thank you for hosting this. Got some great ideas that I hope we can implement with the city on Safer at Home order. Nice to learn what other communities are doing.”

“This roundtable has grown into a staple for these times and I think that everyone is enjoying the opportunity to share and learn.”  

“I am buoyed by reading the notes from the meetings knowing we are all in this together.

Personally, the roundtables have had far more of an impact on me emotionally than I thought they would, and I’ve put that emotion behind the work we’re doing. With everything that our clients are now facing, I’m proud that Varsity is part of the ongoing solution. I know that my co-workers at Varsity feel similarly.

Here’s to a new year filled with happy news, and we hope you can join the conversation as we continue our roundtables in 2021. To join us on Thursdays at noon ET, email DDunham@VarsityBranding.com for login information.

 

 

 

During our final roundtable of the year, communities shared what they learned in 2020 and how they’re anxiously awaiting the vaccine.

Check out the highlights below, and please join us for our first roundtable of 2021 after the holiday break.

Please join our first roundtable of the year on Thursday, January 7, 2021, at noon ET.

For log-in information, contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

At our 37th weekly sales and marketing roundtable, communities discussed the light at the end of the tunnel and shared how they’ll be implementing the vaccine.

Dig into the recap below, and please join us for our next roundtable this week.

Please join our last roundtable of 2020 on Thursday, December 17, at noon ET.

This will be our last discussion of the year, but we will start back up in early 2021!

For login information, please contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

 

 

As they deal with cases and closures during the holidays, participants of our weekly sales and marketing roundtable are experiencing a mix of emotions: worry about current COVID spikes and hope for the coming vaccine.

Check out the recap below, and please feel free to join us for our next roundtable, later this week.

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, December 10, at noon ET.

For login information, please contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

 

 

At our 35th weekly sales and marketing roundtable, communities shared the spiking COVID rates in their respective states, and how they’re marketing differently in this environment.

Please check out the recap below. We also invite you to attend our next roundtable, the Thursday after Thanksgiving Day.

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, December 3, at noon ET.

For login information, please contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

 

 

 

At our 34th sales and marketing roundtable, we shared our successes and setbacks during the pandemic. We were also fortunate to have one participant share takeaways from this year’s SMASH conference.

Check out the recap and conference takeaways below. We also invite you to attend our next roundtable this week.

Takeaways from the SMASH Conference 

Over 200 sales and marketing professionals from senior living organizations of all sizes across the U.S. participated. One of our roundtable attendees shared these takeaways:

Biggest Sales and Marketing Trends

  1. Since COVID-19, leads and occupancy have plunged across the board.
  2. The deepest occupancy decreases have been in assisted living, with the toughest objection being “Why would I move my mom into assisted living when I know I won’t be able to see her for months?”
  3. Marketing budgets are not being cut and, in many instances, they are being increased.
  4. Marketing dollars are being reallocated from events and on-site activities to digital, SEO/SEM, virtual tours, videos and webinars.
  5. Marketing automation (automated lead nurture) is by far the #2 marketing priority after digital paid search and search engine optimization (SEO/SEM).
  6. Marketing messages have pivoted for assisted living and memory care to safety and security. IL messages are still about lifestyle, with a bit of safety and security in the message mix.
  7. Website — making sure the messages are appropriate/correct for the times. For most senior living communities, COVID-19 info has recently been moved from front and center to a smaller tab on the homepage, still easily accessible.
  8. Salespeople across the board are still focusing 100% of their time on sales, including nurturing the wait list/depositors, cold calling, working through the database, delivering treats/meals to depositors, virtual tours, apartment tours, answering website/call leads, etc. Activity team members, as well as social workers and front desk team members, are taking care of all window/outside visits, temperature taking, Facetime/Skyping with family members, virtual doctor visits, etc.
  9. Sales messaging, especially for assisted living — do not lead with COVID-19. We are living with COVID-19 24/7; however, prospects are calling us because mom/dad needs more help. They want to know how we can help them first and foremost.
  10. “Backstage Pass” — can’t tour the community, but can tour individual apartments.

Interesting Sales and Marketing Stats

  • New reality — 90% of prospects do not want to talk with us. They just want more information (which they are finding digitally via Google, website, videos, Facebook, Instagram, etc.)
  • Across the U.S. in CCRCs:
    • 43% increase in cost per conversion in digital search
    • 39% decrease in goal completion (filling out a form, calling, etc.)
    • 103% increase in phone calls (these are not all sales calls)
  • 70% of adult daughters find care for their parents through digital (up from 50% not so long ago)
  • Google will drive 90% of digital leads
  • 77% of searches for senior care begin online … even for skilled nursing
  • 80% of senior living search online is Google, Facebook and individual community websites
  • 6 billion minutes of content per week are consumed via video
  • 3 connected devices per person — and we switch between them all day long
  • Average number of brand touchpoints = six per person … up from two 10 years ago.
  • 92% of consumers begin their healthcare search online — with 6,000 searches related to long-term care EVERY HOUR
  • 88% of residents overall would recommend LTC. (Perception: 24% of seniors don’t want to move to LTC. Reality: 88% who live in LTC really love it.)

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, November 19, at noon ET.

For login information, please contact DDunham@Varsitybranding.com.

 

 

At our 33rd weekly sales & marketing roundtable, we shared how we’re feeling this week. We also discussed a plastic wall that was set up by one community to allow residents and family to hug, shown below.

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, November 12, at noon ET.

For login information, please contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

At our 31st weekly sales and marketing roundtable, communities shared their challenges, solutions and one often-used event topic that’s still getting amazing traction.

Put these ideas to work for your community by checking out the recap below.

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, October 29, at noon ET.

Lana Peck, senior principal at the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC), will be joining us again to discuss the recent NIC 2020 Fall Conference and findings on the next wave of surveys. 

For login information, please contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

Last week at our virtual sales and marketing roundtable, participants shared that they are trying new sales strategies and working to debunk the myths of COVID-19.

Dig into the recap below. Please also join us for our next roundtable, coming up this week.

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, October 15, at noon ET.

For login information, please contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

Robert Speker, Activities Coordinator at Sydmar Lodge  in Edgware, North London, UK, and his residents have passed the time through lockdown by recreating famous album covers. Posing while wearing similar clothing, makeup and expressions, the residents (and the caregivers as well) have redone album covers by the Beatles, Lady Gaga, Adele, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson, The Clash, U2, Elvis Presley, Madonna and others. And they’re still going.

Robert started this project to keep residents engaged and entertained during social distancing. Rather than passing the time playing bingo or watching TV, he felt they needed something more inspiring to do. It was a huge surprise to all of them when the project quickly went viral on social media and gained international recognition. Robert has done 80 to 100 TV and print interviews, and was gracious enough to talk to Varsity. See his ongoing artistic collaborations with residents at @RobertSpeker on Twitter.

Why did you begin this project?

It was something I’d long thought about, but I don’t usually have a lot of time. However, during lockdown, I had more time to put on different activities with the residents particularly when no family visits were allowed. That was the impetus for me actually starting the project. Once I had explained to each resident what I wanted to do, they got on board really quickly, with great enthusiasm.

What have been some of the highlights of the experience?

There have been many. David Bowie’s widow Iman retweeted it.  It’s just a phenomenal thing to know that the love of his life has seen this project and has liked it.

Midge Ure challenged me to do the Ultravox album cover of Vienna, which was just celebrating its 40th anniversary. So I felt the need to be able to do it. After I sent the photo out, he sent a really lovely message. As a special surprise for resident Sheila Solomon’s 92nd birthday, I’d arranged for her to meet Rag’n’Bone Man backstage before one of his concert. He was really lovely with her. He is a huge guy… he gave her a signed album. It was the one with the tattoo, so I knew that I had to get her doing this cover, complete with tattoo, temporary in Sheila’s case.

Sheila also recreated the Clash cover (a redo of an Elvis Presley album). She’s a real character. There’s not many 94-year-olds that still like going to rock concerts! She’s just waiting for lockdown to end so she can go and see Ed Sheeran. 

How did you choose the residents and carers for the photos?

It was partly on their look, say, if they had a similar hairstyle, but also based on music preference. They had heard all of the artists⎯they might not know exactly the song, but they all know and have listened to all of the different artists. So it was a case of showing them the album covers. It was interesting to discuss different covers and see how the image appears to someone in their 90s, and then it was a case of matching it in that way and taking some photos.

How did you choose the album covers?

I wanted the covers to be ones which were easily recognizable ⎯ the word “iconic” springs to mind. Even if the photo won’t have the name of either the singer or the group, you’ll know almost immediately who that artist is.

What impact has your project had on morale among residents and staff?

Well, they really have loved doing it. And obviously the global response has just been overwhelming. It’s been absolutely awesome, really phenomenal and so positive. They loved seeing the coverage on TV and in the press. For the residents and the staff to receive such warm wishes from around the world is really heartwarming ⎯ especially in this time when we are still in lockdown. Residents are only seeing their families maybe a couple times a week, if that, literally for 20 minutes, at two-meter distances, with masks on. The positivity was really needed. And while I was doing it just to create some smiles, it has also raised awareness of care homes—the people who are living and are working in them.

Did that play a role in changing the perception of older individuals?

It certainly did, because it made people realize that care homes aren’t this stagnant environment where residents just sit around in a circle, either sleeping or watching television. We try to encourage them to do as much as they possibly can. My mantra is: Use it or lose it. So often I say, if you can do it yourself, do it, because you don’t want to get to that stage where you actually aren’t able to do it; so once you can still do something, do it. And with these photos, they were all able to do it, they all enjoyed doing it. So it was that kind of feeling of knowing how care homes are perceived not only in the UK, but obviously in America and other countries, and we’re trying to knock that theory out of the window.

Are there any residents who said, “Hey, I want to be included”?

Yeah, we had a few, and their family members would get involved by saying, “I think Mummy would be good at this.” Or, “Why don’t we use Dad for this?” Then we’ve got residents saying, “What am I going to do? When am I going to be photographed?”

How did people find out about it?

Initially I sent it out on Facebook, to the families, and then posted on Twitter and Instagram. On Twitter, that’s where it went really completely crazy—just to learn who had seen it and how many people had seen it. I said to the residents, over 11 million people have seen these photos. It’s quite unbelievable. 

How were you able to do all the makeup, hair, body painting, photography and editing?

When I’ve got an idea such as this in mind, I like to do it myself, because I know what I need to achieve, rather than trying to explain it to someone else. Also, I didn’t want a lot of people knowing about it, just so that it could be focused on that individual. I could just take them off quietly. There’s no hoo-ha about it. I’d spend 30 minutes or an hour with them. Doing the makeup or the set or the hair.

Can you talk about why you made some of the details in the photos different?

Martin, the gentleman in the Springsteen photo, he’s got his own baseball cap, so I thought, I’m going to use that cap. And I’ve tried to do that throughout, so if there’s an item of clothing that the actual individual has already, then I want that to be in the photo. Sheila had a jumper similar to Rag’n’Bone Man’s, so that’s what I got her to wear. For Hilda and Blink-182 — the model is wearing a red bra, which wouldn’t have been appropriate for her. I showed a lovely red jumper of Hilda’s. Whether it’s an item of jewelry or a piece of clothing, I use things that belong to the residents, to make sure that it’s about them in the photo, not just their body, but also other aspects of their personality.

 Have other communities reached out to you about your project?

Yes. Another care home messaged me and said, “We hope you don’t mind, we saw what you did, and we’ve also tried to have a little go at that.” I think that’s a wonderful thing — especially during this time, when other care homes are in isolation — we need to be sharing ideas. And if this can work in other settings, then I’m all for it. It’s not a competition about who can do the best; it’s about making sure that seniors are engaged and have activities to do.

What has been your favorite thing about the project?

Suddenly, our residents are in the spotlight; they are the main talking point, having done something absolutely phenomenal. They have been able to talk so much about this to their peers, to family, to staff. It’s amazing that it’s still carrying on. Which is a beautiful thing. 

It’s not only just making somebody smile, it’s the fact that residents are talked about. And it’s not about the famous singers, it’s about our residents. It is really humbling personally for me. I never expected the impact and the response. I’m really overwhelmed, and the residents just absolutely love receiving the messages and can’t quite believe that people in America, Australia and all over the world have seen these photos and want to connect with us.

It has been a lovely ride that we’ve all been on. I’ve really shared it, the whole way, with the residents, which is just a lovely thing.

During COVID-19, Robert and the residents of Sydmar Lodge Care Home are helping others by raising funds for three charities: DementiaFriends.org.uk, Alzheimers.org.uk and AgeUK.org.ukYou can join the cause by donating through their GoFundMe page or by ordering a charity calendar they’re creating. Watch Robert’s Twitter page (@RobertSpeker) to see when the calendar comes out and how to order it. 

At Roundtable #28, community marketers shared their feelings about the pandemic and explained why some are seeing a sales spike this fall.

Dig into the takeaways below.  Please also join us for our next virtual roundtable this week. For log-in information,  contact DDunham@Varsitybranding.com.

 

 

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, October 8, at noon ET.

Get log-in information here.

At our weekly sales and marketing roundtable, we all shared creative tactics we’re using to attract prospects as communities gradually open back up.

We’d especially like to thank Lana Peck, Senior Principal at the National Investment Center for  Seniors Housing & Care (NIC) for sharing insights gleaned from 11 waves of executive surveys, all completed since the pandemic hit.

You’ll find discussion highlights and survey results below. We also invite you to join us for our next roundtable, coming this week.

 

NIC Executive Survey Insights

We were joined by Lana Peck, Senior Principal at NIC.

Lana:

NIC is a nonprofit organization with a mission to enable access and choice for America’s seniors through data, transparency and making connections.

We’ve been doing our executive survey, since 3/24/20, with 11 waves of data so far. Our audience is C-suite executives and owners/operators of senior housing properties across the country.

We would encourage each of your executives to email insight@nic.org to take the executive survey.

Some highlights from the results so far:

  • Wave 10 = 53% (mid- to late July)
    • About half of organizations with more than one property are easing restrictions
  • Wave 11 = 63% (late August)
    • Even more are easing move-in restrictions

Note: blue = good; orange = bad

  • Wave 8 (around Memorial Day)—we start to see an improvement and a downward trend in decreasing occupancy (directional changes in occupancy by care segment across the respondent’s portfolio of properties—single-property operators included)
  • Mid- to late August sees pullback in move-ins for AL

• Note: blue = good; orange = bad
• Across the board, the pace of move-outs hasn’t changed tremendously (gray bars)
• Around Memorial Day, we see some improvement, with fewer organizations reporting acceleration in move-outs
• In mid- to late August, we see a pullback in acceleration again

  • The recent decline in a slowdown in leads/conversions is due to easing moratoriums and pent-up demand (especially in IL) when doors opened, and people waiting in the wings could actually move in
  • When the blue line goes down, that’s a good thing—it’s a reverse in the slowdown of leads and conversions
  • The orange line has been trending lower—about half of organizations eased move-in restrictions
  • Yellow line—only about half of organizations initially felt that resident or family member concerns contributed to deceleration of move-ins, but this has increased quite a bit, possibly due to a resurgence of COVID-19 or issues of residents not being able to see family members. This is a significant factor in more recent waves of the study.
  • This slide is aggregate and shows all care segments
  • Leads, conversions and sales are happening more frequently as of more recently. Before, there was an inability to have people on campus to make sales.

  • This shows the toll of the pandemic on organizations—how many are feeling the need to provide incentives to bring residents in. For the most part, most are not reducing rents or fees at this time.
  • The majority of respondents don’t have a backlog of residents waiting to move in.

Valuable Resources NIC Offers:

  • NIC’s Fall Virtual Conference. The conference will start on October 3. Week 1 will focus on education. Week 2 will be about making connections and business contacts in peer-to-peer discussions. Anyone who signs up for the conference will be able to participate in Community Connector—essentially a LinkedIn for senior housing.
  • COVID-19 Resource Center.  Data, analytics and connections to help provide transparency to the sector and keep  communities informed.

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, October 1, at noon ET.

 For log-in information, please contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

 

At our virtual sales and marketing roundtable, we brainstormed tactics to help prospects overcome their reluctance to move during a pandemic.

Check out the takeaways below. Please also join us for our next roundtable, coming up this week.

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, September 24, at noon ET.

We’ll be joined by Lana Peck, Senior Principal at the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC). She’ll be discussing insights from NIC’s ongoing executive survey. NIC has conducted 12 waves of surveys with C-suite execs, across senior living, with near real-time data on the pulse of the market and the fundamentals of senior housing. The study includes topics like changes in occupancy, how communities are supporting staff and reasons for acceleration and deceleration of move-ins (among other topics).

For log-in information, please contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

In the wake of so much negative news about skilled nursing facilities in the midst of the global pandemic, the Varsity PR team thought, “How can we generate positive, relevant news stories for our clients?”

One client, the National Association for the Support of Long Term Care (NASL), felt the same way. We worked together to develop positive, health-related story angles to position NASL, and its members, as thought leaders in the therapy field.

The story angle we landed on: Why therapists are essential to patients recovering from COVID-19, and the evolution of their role amid the crisis.

There’s been much publicity about COVID-19 patients recovering and leaving hospitals. But another story wasn’t being told—about the serious long-term health challenges of getting patients back to their baseline. There is an essential need for therapists to help patients eat, walk, think and return to doing day-to-day tasks. Therapists, we quickly learned, are about as critical to patients recovering from COVID-19 as the hospital staff who initially treat them.Varsity worked with NASL, and a few of their Philadelphia member therapy providers, to develop the story angle. We pitched it to the health reporter at The Philadelphia Inquirer, which resulted in an in-depth piece about the significant contributions of therapists in helping patients recover from COVID-19.

Here’s a link to the story, which was the lead article on the front page of the Sunday paper and also ran online.

We’re proud that we could get in front of the pandemic with a positive story. It positions NASL members not only as experts, but tells the important story of why therapists are essential in the recovery from COVID-19.

Here are five tips to keep in mind when you’re working to garner positive publicity for your organization:

  1. Build your contacts. It’s important to cultivate relationships with key reporters who would be interested in what you have to offer; this way, you’ll already have someone to contact when a story idea arrives.
  2. Know the media landscape. Timing is everything. If your story relates to a topic in the news, you’ll have a greater chance of getting reporters interested.
  3. Follow through. You can’t just send the pitch and hope for the best. We recommend emailing and/or calling the reporter to follow up after you’ve sent the pitch. If you land the story, make sure the reporter has all necessary information to complete the story, e.g., an interview schedule. Keep on top of things and get the reporter the information they need.
  4. Realize it’s not all about your client. Nine times out of ten, reporters will look to other resources as well, and they may feature and quote several companies and spokespersons in the piece.
  5. Be patient. This story didn’t happen overnight. It was a process that involved looking at the current media landscape, identifying the reporter we wanted to reach, crafting the pitch, and assisting with coordinating interviews and therapy observation sessions.

PR isn’t easy, but it is rewarding to see clients get recognition for being the experts they truly are. It’s all about being in the right place at the right time, crafting the pitch and being prepared to follow the story all the way to the end.

 

At our weekly sales and marketing roundtable, aging services expert Scott Townsley, principal of Trilogy Consulting, LLC, joined us to discuss consumer research and other insights related to the pandemic.

Check out the takeaways below. Please also join us for our next roundtable, coming this week.

Highlights from presentation on consumer research by Scott Townsley, Principal, Trilogy Consulting, LLC:

Opportunities are already emerging amid COVID-19—this will change who we are as a field and will change the product. Here are some resources that can be helpful as you deal with this situation.

The End of Competitive Advantage and Seeing Around Corners, two excellent books by Rita Gunther McGrath

  • “Inflection point” is a key concept she discusses, which she describes as jerking the steering wheel while driving
  • Unfortunately, by the time you recognize an inflection point, it can be too late; for example, discovering that occupancy has dropped from 96% to 80%, and it’s not going back up
  • My observation is that skilled nursing is at an inflection point—it was already changing, but the coronavirus has pushed it to this point—and that a portion of it will be forever changed
  • Life Plan Communities aren’t at an inflection point yet, but we need to have our eyes wide open

Nonsense: The Power of Not Knowing, by Jamie Holmes

  • “While uncertainties can be painful, they are also, by definition, eras of change. They’re destabilizing because they’re a threat to the status quo, which is also precisely why they represent an opportunity for innovative and cultural rebirth.”
  • The risk is that we seek information or anecdotes that hint we’re returning to the “way things were” sooner rather than later—rather than seeking actual data
  • We can’t look to the past (even January 2020) for clues about the future, because we’re probably going to be wrong; I refer to it as the “perilous backslide to the status quo,” in which we will innately make decisions thinking things will get back to “normal”
  • Virtual tours are a great example of how we’ve adapted
  • When I first saw a billboard for telemedicine, years ago, I thought, “Who’s going to want telemedicine?” But without it, many people (particularly in skilled nursing) wouldn’t have been able to see their physicians; we went from talking about it to it being a key part of life

Consumer Behavior Survey

We just completed a 1,000-person survey of four market areas in Pennsylvania (southeastern, south-central, west-central and northeast), one in Maryland and one in Delaware.

Too often, we’re talking in anecdotes, but we need to use data that tracks consumer behavior. This is especially risky when talking about the coronavirus.

  • Background on the study
    • Participants are 60 to 80 years old; all income groups
    • Conducted last week in July/first week in August
    • Asked approximately 50 questions
    • All telephone conversations (landline and mobile)
    • Allowed us to reach the “essential non-customers”
    • With people at home, it was easier to reach them; they’re still answering their phones
    • Completed 1,000 surveys in five days
  • What’s key is that this survey has statistical validity—it provides insight into the thinking of consumers rather than anecdotes

Early on, it was clear that we (as an industry) knew neither the questions to ask nor the answers. Today, there’s more clarity about the former (the questions that we, as an industry, should be asking) and an ability to obtain the answers. Hence this survey.

We asked the question, “How concerned are you about coronavirus in your area?” Seventy-eight percent are very or somewhat concerned about the coronavirus in their area. For those whose adult children are involved in making decisions about retirement living options, that number increases to 87 percent.

It’s also notable that, in this and prior surveys:

  • The percentage of people who are concerned about future long-term care needs is typically low
  • The percentage of people who are concerned about their ability to afford their retirement is also low
  • The percentage of people who are concerned about dementia or Alzheimer’s, for themselves and those they love, is incrementally higher than the other two—but still a fraction of those concerned about the coronavirus

We then assessed the impact of COVID-19 on Senior Living Community (SLC) interest later in the study:

  • By and large, every cross-tab is very or less interested due to the coronavirus
    • With respect to SLC interest, there are as many people who are less interested as there are who are more interested—due to the coronavirus
    • Interestingly, people who identify as evangelicals are 17% less interested in senior living communities than the average (due to the coronavirus)
    • There’s still a core of people who remain interested, which may be proving the naysayers wrong, but: (a) it’s too soon to know for sure, and (b) the coronavirus has significantly reduced interest in senior living “congregate”-type options
      • The field could be in jeopardy if the virus stays around
      • The virus has, conversely, also made some people more interested
    • Note: This study won’t be valid six months or a year from now—everything is changing so quickly
    • It’s critical to talk to people who are “the essential non-customers”—those who are living outside the senior living world (and who aren’t on your lists)—to understand who is motivated and why
      • Ask how they feel about congregate living on their overall health and well-being
      • In unprecedented times, we need to rely on information that’s current
    • I was wrong about the recession in 2008–2010—I thought the loss of value in portfolios would have a searing effect on people’s decisions about senior living, much in the way the depression impacted how people spent money
      • This didn’t happen, and the for-profit sector took advantage of that
      • The not-for-profit sector did not jump on it
    • It’s possible that, six months from now, if there’s an effective vaccine, the consumer could forget about this—but it’s also possible that it will stay with them for a long time, perhaps forever
    • It’s important to note that concerns about the coronavirus did not increase the interest in a stay-at-home program (though the percentage of people “very interested” in a stay-at-home program is twice what it is for a senior living community)
    • HJ Sims is soon coming out with a national study that will be fascinating to review; it, hopefully, will include all regions of the country, not just those heavily impacted by COVID-19
    • The secret to success is data analytics, and WildFig (Varsity’s sister firm) is ahead of the curve
    • “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that: It’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” – Rahm Emanuel

Please join us for our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, September 17, at noon ET.

For log-in information, please contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

Today I’m talking to Joe Gorman, Division President East at Morrison Living. Morrison Living provides culinary, design, wellness and environmental services to 450 clients in 41 states, including some of the most prominent senior living communities in the United States.

How are you keeping things safe at the communities you partner with?

At Continuing Care Retirement Communities, we have an in-depth checklist to make sure that associates are safe; that the environment is clean, sanitized and effective; and that we’re thinking through all the elements so that, when communities are getting ready to restart and reopen, they’re in the best possible situation.

We’re doing some unique things—working with different types of communities that are having challenges. They’re looking for the expertise, help and compassion we can provide.

If they need to make design changes, they can turn to our subject-matter experts. We can also help them as they make labor changes so that they can be both efficient and sensitive to what residents need.

Communities may have had two dining services a day. Now, to keep people socially distanced, they have four or five services, as well as a dining room functioning at 25 to 50 percent capacity. They need resources and tools to manage these challenges. We have a robust restart program that addresses these areas, so no one feels alone.

We’re also getting calls from clients asking, from an environmental perspective, what should we be doing? What about disinfectants? We’re enhancing our environmental teams and restructuring to make sure that we can fulfill the needs of all these communities in various geographic areas.

How does your parent company, Compass Group, help you support your communities?

Compass Group, a best-in-class organization, provides food and support services to millions of people across the globe. They’ve published a guide to helps their 25 business sectors deal with the COVID-19 environment. Called “Stay Safe, Eat Well,” the guide is comprehensive, because it has to address the COVID-19 issue in every sector. It gives us resources, technology, design and wonderful tools that can cross over every sector. One of my favorites is ChefNet, a network of local and celebrity chefs who make virtual appearances at communities. They teach kitchens to lift residents’ spirits and show them how to make exciting new dishes.

How are you restarting and reopening communities?

We have a robust platform: ReSTART + ReNEW. In our industry, as the virus changes, reopening practices have to match the needs of different states and counties, at different times. Our plans have to be flexible in addressing the ever-changing environment. When COVID-19 started, we collaborated with our best subject-matter experts in all categories. We immediately looked at how to handle this situation. Now, we have an in-depth formula that we follow depending on the level of care required.

We’ve reopened multiple communities in the middle of this pandemic. One innovation is at The Templeton of Cary, a brand-new CCRC, where residents are moving in right now. We’re introducing a robot that is helping staff by clearing plates, so employees aren’t handling multiple plates, and they can spend more quality time interacting with residents. Learn more about Penny,  the self-driving robot.

What kinds of design changes are you making?

We have a robust team of culinary innovators and designers. They work with design companies and architects to enact multiple changes. As self-service, with beverages and salad, goes away, for social distancing reasons, we’re coming up with different innovations and platforms to solve those problems. Morrison Living’s team is critical right now. People have to make major decisions in a very short window of time.

You think about the pressure that communities are under right now—what they’ve gone through is unprecedented, unbelievable. We want to give them tools and resources so that they don’t have to feel that they are alone, and that they are getting the help they need.

I started my conversation with Joe Gorman, Division President East at Morrison Living, thinking we would talk about the innovative culinary, wellness, design and environmental initiatives his company is implementing to support its 450 senior living clients across the country during this crisis. I came away realizing that simple human compassion is at the heart of the help Morrison is providing to its communities.

Derek: What are some ways you’re boosting morale at your communities?

Joe: When COVID-19 first began to spike, it was a difficult time for us emotionally, because we partner with a lot of large skilled nursing communities in New York City. What was happening there was devastating. It was a lot of conversations and constantly following up and working with team members. There was so much happening in the industry that was really challenging. We just wanted to know, “How can we help?”

We returned to what we’ve always done here at Morrison Living: We use food to help heal emotionally. My mother used to always say: “Sweetness takes the bitterness away.” I couldn’t agree more. We jumped in and quickly used some of our great programs to boost morale among residents and staff. Here are a few examples:

  • Special food themes. We created special ice cream dishes, mocktails and other treats for special days, and handed them out to people. We had an onslaught of great ideas we used, not just to help residents, but to boost employee morale as well.
  • Jack and Olive: One innovation we were able to quickly deploy was the Jack and Olive “handcrafted convenience” destination concept. We provided this to the heroes who have been working nonstop through COVID-19. This is an on-the-go concept featuring healthy options, artisan sandwiches and fun salads that are easy for staff to engage with.
  • Teaching Kitchen@Home. In this program, our celebrity chefs do live teaching classes in a kitchen, and we stream the classes to residents in their residences. We also have creative folks delivering the ingredients to some of our residents so that they can prepare the dishes as they follow along with the live stream.
  • New menus for meal delivery: As community dining rooms shut down during COVID-19, culinarians and corporate chefs had to focus on creating meals you could deliver to residents’ apartments. We helped them think through that process so they could deal with other emotional challenges they were facing.

How can we stay motivated during COVID-19?

This situation is something you never, ever thought you would experience in a lifetime. It just takes an emotional toll. You’ve got to stay motivated and stay cognizant of what’s happening. You’ve got to tap into empathy and a lot of other emotions that you didn’t have to use at this capacity before. It’s a new dynamic; it’s a new way to lead; it’s a new way to learn. So, it’s been very humbling to see the dedication of people in this industry. It’s just overwhelming to experience that. There are no words that can really describe it.

I think one of the best things we did is have open dialogue with team members to give them opportunities to talk about what they were going through. Early on, we had national calls with all our people every week. We not only did that, because we wanted to connect with our teams, but we wanted to make sure that they were okay. One example is Chef Jet, one of our celebrity chefs. He helped by sending out a video shout-out to our New York people.

You’re acknowledging what people are going through, listening to their challenges. Personal phone calls and connections go a long way.

How can we show empathy when we’re wearing masks?

All our associates understand that you’re supposed to greet people with a smile; you can make a difference in someone’s day by being the best part of their day. But physically, since we’re wearing masks, things have changed. That’s why we put together “compassion training”: to get the point across that, when you smile, even if you have a mask on, people can see your smile in your eyes. Whether it’s an associate or a resident or a client you’re smiling back at—these little things make a huge difference.

Can you talk about the power of food to heal during COVID-19?

Food has always been a passion of mine. As a child, I cooked with my aunt and my grandmother. I always found that people connected through food. Early on, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I started in the sexy, exciting sector of hospitality: restaurants and hotels. But pretty early in my career, I found the senior market. I just fell in love with this environment and have been in it ever since.

The food philosophy that we instill in the people we work with, whatever the cuisine, is that tastes and smells evoke memories. When I taste or smell a dish, I remember when my grandmother made that special recipe, or I learned that certain technique. Our residents experience the same thing, so when they see or taste or smell our food, we’ve created an emotional connection. We have the opportunity to share love through food. That connection is even more important during these challenging times.

Read more about Morrison Living, and what it’s doing to support communities during COVID-19, in an upcoming blog.

 

Last week, at our sales and marketing roundtable, communities shared creative ways to drive move-ins and brainstormed solutions to their biggest reopening challenges.

Dig into the recap below. Please also join us for our next virtual roundtable, coming this week!

 

Please join our next roundtable discussions on Thursday, September 3, and Thursday, September 10, at noon ET.

On September 10, aging services expert Scott Townsley from Trilogy Consulting will be joining us to discuss consumer research and other insights related to the pandemic.

For log-in information, please contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

At our weekly sales and marketing roundtable, Varsity team members Cory Lorenz, Media Director, and Cara Stefchak, Senior Social Media Strategist, joined us to share their thoughts on social media and digital media use during the pandemic.

Check out the highlights below. Please also join us for our next sales and marketing roundtable next week!

Thoughts on social media from Cara Stefchak: 

Hello, everyone! Last time I joined you, I talked about content creation and brainstorming around what makes good content and best practices. I wanted to keep it more informal this time. I wanted to address some things I saw in last week’s roundtable—activities that I thought would make great social content.

  • Think about how a video tour or other event can be leveraged on social
    • I encourage you to work with whomever is filming and editing to get multiple deliverables out of a project. Engagement falls off at the two-minute mark for Facebook content, and one minute for an Instagram post. Always look at what your video is—how you can slice and dice it in different ways to provide you with legs on social media.
    • Design for sound off. We always encourage people to keep in mind that viewers may have their sound off. If someone is narrating the tour, include captions and include your logo early in the video to help communicate your message.
    • Two minutes is the longer end of things. Really, you have probably just a few seconds to get your audience’s attention. With a community tour, you probably have more leeway, but it’s still a good idea to catch their attention in the first few seconds to get them to hang on a little longer.
    • Question: How do you upload a longer video?
      • Answer: If you upload a video that is longer than one minute to Instagram, it will prompt you to go directly to Instagram TV. It will sense that it is too long for the feed, and that it should go to Instagram TV.
    • Question: Can you add captions to an iPhone video? 
      • Answer: You can’t do Instagram Live or Facebook Live with captions—you have to add them post-filming. Facebook has smart captioning, and it might be able to detect your voice, but I would still go back through and make sure everything is correct.
  • Virtual events make great social content—whether it’s bingo, or happy hour, or having folks share a meal in their room.
    • Always try to remove as many barriers as possible for participation.
      • Prepare for the event in advance (provide the cards, markers, and step-by-step directions for logging on) to make it as user-friendly as possible.
      • Snap a photo of care packages/prizes outside doors, and share on social media channels. Doing so shows that, even though there’s social distancing, your teams are doing their best to keep residents engaged.
    • Question: Do you keep the activity in small groups of 5 or 6 or a bigger group of 30?  
      • Answer: Smaller might be helpful depending on how much participation you anticipate. You can communicate more easily that way and have more back and forth. When you get in those larger Zoom meetings, it’s hard to jump in and speak up. Smaller breakout groups are definitely a nice idea.
    • Tip: It doesn’t have to be: “We need to do something for social content.”

A lot of things you’re already doing. Ask yourself: What activities do we have that could be nice to capture and share out on social? It’s a smart way to show people that life is going on, and life is still great in the community. It’s always nice when you can share a virtual event. It gives an impression of vitality and vibrancy.

  • What virtual events are you doing right now? 
    • We’ve posted some of our activities on Facebook—short programs with people exercising in the courtyard.
    • One community wanted to have a celebrity chef do a cooking demonstration, so they sent ingredients to those who RSVPed. We’re still working on setting it up
  • What moments are coming up that you could build an event around?

September 16 is National Play-Doh Day. Maybe artists can create with Play-Doh. It’s an excuse for something fun. There’s never a shortage of those interesting holidays that you’ve never heard of.

Grandparents Day: What a time to highlight intergenerational connections.

Instead of having grandchildren visit, grandparents can make gifts for grandchildren, and they could be delivered.Grandparents can share advice for grandchildren, and it can be shared on social.

  • Is anyone addressing COVID concerns directly in social content? If so, what response have you gotten?
    • I follow a lot of clients and I haven’t seen much lately.
    • We’ve been sharing our COVID status and policies via Constant Contact. People are sharing how grateful they are that we are taking care of the community. We’ve been COVID-free since June 1.
    • Have you purposely not put that content on social? No, we just haven’t thought about it, but I guess we also haven’t wanted to brag about being COVID-free because that could change tomorrow.
  • Question: A lot of people I know had their Instagram accounts hacked. How can we stop that?
    • Answer: Update your passwords. (Since our personal Instagram is our gateway to community sites, it’s even more important to make that more secure.) Another person said, “I recently had my accounts hacked. There’s a link you can use to report to Facebook that this isn’t you.”

Cory Lorenz presented an Enquire data slide showing recent media trends:

Cory: Social media inquiries are up year to year, and email is up huge. Conversely, direct mail is taking a hit, and out-of-home and paid referrals are way down. We’re curious whether this looks accurate to you for your specific communities. Are you seeing the same trends?

  • Internal referrals are down a little, but we’re working on a new testimonial campaign
  • We’re getting more leads from the internet and email; direct mail has flattened out.
  • We’ve cut way back on direct mail and advertising—it’s expensive in big-city markets. Most of my referrals are coming fromfriends, family and other people who are aware of the community.
  • We are getting more internet advertising referrals, and paid professional referrals are down. Since you can’t have events anymore, that’s one reason direct mail is taking such a hit.

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, August 27, at noon ET.

For log-in information, please contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

 

In our most recent sales and marketing roundtable, community marketers shared their recent sales ups and downs as well as some valuable tips for virtual events.

Check out the recap of our discussion below. Please also join us for our next sales and marketing roundtable next week. Details are at the end of the post.

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, August 20, at noon ET.

Cara Stefchak and Cory Lorenz will join us to discuss social media and digital media usage during the pandemic.

For log-in information, please contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

In this guest post, Jill Janes, vice president of sales and marketing at Methodist Retirement Communities (MRC), shares her thoughts on how to market and sell communities during COVID-19.

The current environment is a challenge for salespeople and marketers, but at no point has giving up been an option. It’s the same as facing any other obstacle in the sales process. It’s our job to get around it. That’s what we do. Here are some tips and techniques my sales team is using to overcome the challenges of COVID-19.

  1. Stress the Positives of Senior Living

Residents who move to senior living regain ground. They slow down the aging process; they became more social, active and intellectually stimulated. We’ve lost ground during these past four or five months, but I believe 100 percent that our residents are still aging in a superior fashion to those living in their homes right now.

Our residents are enjoying three delicious, nutritious meals, delivered to their doors every day. There are virtual exercise and wellness programs, socially distanced opportunities to engage with others, consistent education about illness prevention, and resources for grocery delivery so that they don’t have to leave their communities. Someone aging in their home doesn’t have any of that. It’s important to stress these benefits during your conversations with prospects.

  1. Understand the Shifting Customer Profile

Our customer profile is changing, specifically for independent living sales. Customers were always intrigued by a maintenance-free, worry-free, lock-it-to-leave-on-vacation lifestyle. They found it appealing to get rid of a big, cumbersome house and find a new world of friends and neighbors. That’s no longer our message.

For the youthful senior who would’ve normally been attracted to this lifestyle, they’re pulling back. The ones who are leaning forward are older, more frail; they’re saying, “Oh, you’ve got three meals delivered to the door? You coordinate grocery delivery?” The people who are active and well don’t feel the pressures of the pandemic as much as those who are frail or less mobile, or who have transportation issues.

We’re finding that the people we’re bringing in the front door are coming to us with a genuine need more than ever before. We’ve had lots of sales despite the pandemic, but they’ve shifted; they’re from a need-based group of folks.

As an industry, we must shift our expectations for continued attrition—add shorter lengths of stay at all levels. Residents are aging, and people are coming in frailer than ever.

  1. Use Creative Tactics for Keeping Depositors Engaged

To keep depositors interested, we have to change tactics. Normally, the way we sell our community is through experiences—come have lunch with us, meet our residents. The question now is, how do we create ways to bring the experience to depositors when we can’t have them on campus?

What we’re doing is taking the experience to them. We’re giving people opportunities to taste our food by having our chefs make mini-casseroles—or lunches that we’ve boxed up, with yummy desserts—which we take to their homes. Depositors are receiving one meal a week, and getting activity packs with games and puzzles.

At these visits, we’re getting our sales staff in front of depositors to nurture the sale. One sales counselor went to a home and saw that the person needed their lawn mowed. He had it mowed and dropped off a pie with a note; it said, “We wanted you to have a taste of a worry-free lifestyle.”

  1. Provide Peace of Mind During Troubling Times

There hasn’t been a single thing since mid-March that has lined up with expectations—everything has been unpredictable and up in the air. The most valuable things we can give back to seniors are a sense of control, security and peace of mind. Potential language to use: “When everything is crazy and unpredictable, it’s nice to have something that you’re in control of.” “It has always been important to plan ahead, but it has never been more critical that you secure a plan for your future—in a community with excellent infection control and quality measures.”

  1. Accept Deposits Without a Move-in Date

We’re now accepting risk-free deposits without a move-in date, but we’re telling people that, by the end of the year, we’re going to reassess.

  1. Offer Preapproval for Life Care

We’re offering to preapprove candidates for our Life Care Communities right now. If they pass a medical exam and have a health crisis in six months, they’re already approved for Life Care. We may reassess this policy at the end of the year, so this is not forever. People need to take advantage of it while we’re in this unusual situation.

  1. Increase Bonuses for Resident Referrals

Most of our traffic and successes are coming from people we have relationships with, through resident referrals and friends of the community. Our residents are saying, “This is wonderful; they’re taking care of us so well.” To thank them for their participation, we’ve dialed up our residential referral bonus an extra $500.

  1. Offer Incentives to Sales Staff

We’re adding commissions now too. After their first move-in for the month, for every additional move-in, salespeople will receive $500. This discourages them from letting the deposit linger, and encourages them to cross the finish line.

We hope you found these tips helpful! Read more sales and marketing advice in another guest post by Jill: Using a Blue-Sky Approach to Sell Current Inventory. 

 

 

As communities gathered virtually last week, most people seemed to be feeling frustrated, finding that prospects of late are need-driven. On a positive note, salespeople realized they aren’t alone, and it was comforting to know that others are in the same boat.

Check out the highlights of our discussion below. Please also join us for our next sales and marketing roundtable, coming up next week.

J

Join the next sales and marketing roundtable on August 13!

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, August 13, at noon ET.

For log-in information, please contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

 

At Thursday’s sales and marketing roundtable, communities met virtually to discuss their reopening challenges. Mark Ingram, CEO of SenioROI, joined us to share his thoughts on direct marketing and list procurement in the time of COVID-19.

Check out the recap of our discussion below. Please also join us for our next sales and marketing roundtable, coming up next week.

Today’s guest: Mark Ingram, CEO, SenioROI

SeniorROI has worked in the retirement industry for 20 years and offers a variety of services related to data on senior living. We lived through the 2008 financial crisis, but this is different. This situation will last longer, and it’s already having a different effect on the industry. Some of the creative methods we’re using may stay around after the crisis, but we have to get through this. Here are some tips to connect with prospects:

  • Stay productive now, and prepare for what’s next
    • Lessons learned from 2008
      • Stay in front of waiting lists
      • Follow up on leads
      • Mail (mass and personal)
      • Phone calls
      • Curated gift boxes targeted to your prospects (senior-related, COVID-19-related, people whose adult children live far away)—the gifts let people know you’re thinking about them and brighten their day
      • Send a meal from the community to the top 5% of the database
      • Use time wisely to capture the leads that are ready!
  • What can you do right now?
    • Harness the power of your CRM. Clean up your internal database. Determine how many of your leads have moved to a competitor, how many are deceased and how many have moved out of the target market. (In case of a death, append the spouse’s name—it could trigger a buying behavior.)
    • Append demographics. You can do a reverse-append from email, and/or mobile, to get the postal data 50 or 60% of the time. If you have the postal data, you can append home equity, age, financial information, spouse’s name and age, or third person in home. Put the info in your CRM using custom fields—and make sure the sales team knows how to use it. Example: “We’ve got a one-bedroom unit; let’s find all the single females who can afford it.” Think about different scenarios, and get the sales team comfortable with appended data. Once you understand the prospect, it changes the conversation and helps the sales team dramatically.
    • Create a profile of your best prospects. Look at age, financial and geographic information that will help you buy the right list. Once you have the list, you can do direct mail, but it’s not the only thing you can do with a database. When you have the postal addresses, you can match individuals on Facebook. Some of the highest match rates will be through mobile devices and email, but you need a postal address to do that. Once you can match people on Facebook, you can serve them digital ads, through addressable geo-fencing, that go to their phone, laptop and desktop. Note: Addressable geofencing is essentially putting a digital fence around their address and serving ads to devices that are active in that zone. Looking at the database a little differently is extremely important to maximizing its value, or what you get out of it.
    • How many records do you need to create a profile? You need about 300 to 500 records. There are different segments in the profile. One is existing residents, which can go back 2 to 3 years, but the most relevant data is within the last year. Every status code should create a profile—a move-in, a tour, a lost lead.
    • Tips on purchasing a list: When you’re buying data, ask specific questions. Three to 10 percent of the data is outdated the day that you get it—that’s the acceptable percentage in the industry. People have moved out of the market, are deceased, etc. Ask your list provider: How often is the data updated? What compiler is it coming from? There are a ton of sources, some better than others; all have strengths and weaknesses. Some of the best data comes from using a multi-source compiler—that’s what we do. Ask specific questions.
  • Direct mail during COVID-19does it work?
    • It can definitely work and be part of your overall marketing plan:
      • Success story: After a $21,000 spend, a client got the following results: “After cleaning up our database, and appending key demographic and financial data, including email addresses, we identified metrics for a new purchased list for lead generation. This led to a successful webinar series, generating 164 new leads, 5 new sales and 5+ wait-list sales in just two weeks.” – Jeanne La Roe, Marketing Director, Givens Estates 
  • Is there a concern with touching mail that comes to the house?
    • We’ve got some research from the Postal Service, and one of the direct marketing associations, that shows there is no evidence of COVID-19 being spread through the mail. Prospects look forward to going to the mailbox—it may be the only thing they’re doing to get out of the house every day
    • Here’s some information on this question:
      • From CBS News
      • From the USPS
      • From the CDC: “There is still a lot that is unknown about COVID-19 and how it spreads. Coronaviruses are thought to be spread most often by respiratory droplets. Although the virus can survive for a short period on some surfaces, it’s unlikely to be spread from domestic or international mail, products or packaging. However, it may be possible that people can get COVID-19 by touching a surface, or object that has the virus on it, and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.” Learn more about safe handling of deliveries and mail.
  • What can you do if people get mail for a deceased loved one and threaten to sue? Each community should keep its own “do not mail” list on file. As these calls come in, address the issues, and provide callers with a link to be removed from lists. Make sure you have that “do not mail/call” list, and make sure your provider is taking people off the list. Deceased suppression should be run every time you send a direct mail. Doing that decreases the chance that you will get a call like that. Most people who aren’t in the retirement industry don’t understand why this is so important.

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, August 6, at noon ET.

For log-in information, contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

Guest post by Sharon Fahrer, Director of Special Events, LeadingAge PA

We’re excited to present the 2020 LeadingAge PA Annual Conference + EXPO on August 19–21. Our goal is to make the virtual experience every bit as interesting and exciting as the live event! You’ll experience much of what our attendees have come to love about our live conference—plus a few surprises!

From the moment you (virtually) walk into the lobby of the three-dimensional conference, you’ll feel like you’re physically there. You can explore the EXPO exhibits, attend educational sessions, catch keynote speaker Colette Carlson and even network with colleagues. As in past years, the highlight of day one will be the LeadingAge PA Distinguished Service Awards.

Advantages of attending the conference virtually:

  • If you’re among the first 500 people to register, you’ll receive an exhibitor box with carefully selected goodies, including gift cards to cover the cost of lunches attendees are usually provided at Hershey
  • You’ll save time and money on travel: no hotel stay, no gas, no car rental, no traffic!
  • Registration rates are discounted as we’re sensitive to many of our members being under COVID-related financial stress
  • People who usually wouldn’t have the opportunity to physically attend will find it easier to participate

Why we decided on a virtual conference

We were in the final stages of planning our live conference when COVID-19 hit. We decided to go virtual when it became clear we needed to pivot in order to protect our members.  As their well-being comes first, there was no way we could encourage people in the senior living industry to gather and put their safety, or the safety of their residents, at risk.

Finding a virtual platform that feels real

As we pivoted, we concentrated on finding the best virtual platform. We were fortunate that LeadingAge National was also starting a search. We selected the same platform. We chose an engaging system, with three-dimensional elements and cool features, so that you feel as close as possible to being at a live conference. When you enter the conference, it’s not like looking at a flat screen; there’s a three-dimensional building with different activities going on in the lobby. 

The EXPO Hall
Each exhibitor will have a booth. Visitors can chat with staff in real time, access their resources and set appointments. In addition to dedicated hours for the EXPO, you’ll be allowed 24/7 access to booths.

Networking opportunities

You can see who’s online at any given time, so you can connect with them via live video chat. It’s like being at our live conference, seeing a colleague in a hallway, and starting a conversation—only, it’s virtual.

General Sessions

Complementing three days of education sessions will be two general sessions:

  • Colette Carlson, human behavior expert – Keynote Speaker

Carlson’s topic will be, “Many Communicate, Few Connect.” Her engaging, energetic and upbeat presentation style is just what attendees need right now.

  • Rachel Levine, Secretary of Health for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

Dr. Levine will speak about Pennsylvania’s response to COVID-19 and answer attendees’ questions. You’ll have the opportunity to submit your questions and make your voice heard.

Tips to get the most out of the conference

Approach it as if you were attending in person. Block the time off on your online calendar. Close down other applications, and try to focus. The conference will include breaks and the days will end early so that you can work as needed.

Just a reminder: LeadingAge PA is here to help you during COVID-19, offering:

  • A weekly member update call with President and CEO Adam Marles
  • A community lounge where members can ask questions and communicate with other members about how they’re handling issues
  • Resources and tools on the dedicated LeadingAge PA COVID-19 webpage

If you haven’t registered yet, I urge you to attend the 2020 LeadingAge PA Annual Conference + EXPO: Virtual Experience. Hurry to receive the free exhibitor box full of goodies for only the first 500 registrants.  Have a great time!

Questions? Contact LeadingAge PA at (800) 545-2270 or (717) 763-5724.

 

 

At our 18th sales and marketing roundtable, communities contributed ideas and talked about changes on their campuses. This week, Adam Grafton, vice president of culinary for Morrison Living, shared his tips for elevating environments while keeping communities safe.

Here are some tips from Adam’s discussion:

He and other Morrison Living employees live by this motto: “Through compassion and dedication, creating an equitable approach to memorable experiences.”

Elevating Experiences in the Next Normal

  • Assure Safety
    • It’s obviously more important than ever
    • How are we communicating this to current and future residents?
  • Deliver Care
    • Care of associates and residents
    • Focus on wellness
  • Take Action
    • Look at opportunities to create innovation now and for the future

Culinary

Take Action:

  • Wellness
    • Set snack time with fun vibes (music and dancing)—all while social distancing
  • Flexibility
    • Residents have been introduced to different styles of service and food

and will want flexibility moving forward

Consider creating a marketplace for groceries for purchase or delivery

  • Cognitive health
    • Superfoods—virtual demonstrations through community channel (e.g., health benefits of citrus)

Technology

Take Action:

  • Wellness
  • Equitable food solutions
    • iPads with menus
    • Self-order kiosks
    • Residents able to view nutritionals
    • Technology connects directly with POS at community
  • Flexibility
  • Cognitive health

Innovation

Take Action:

  • Independence
  • Variety and flexibility
    • Takeout becomes more important, as well as other styles of service
    • Heavy on tech side with automated machines
      • Takeout lockers
      • Automated salad makers
      • Automated barista coffee machine
      • Virtual teaching kitchens
      • Robots to help assist with service
    • Experience
    • Socialization

Training + Engagement:

Take Action:

  • Retention
    • Let residents know that you’re thinking about them during this time with a takeout/delivery menu
    • Alcoholic/nonalcoholic drink kits to coincide with current events (e.g.,mint juleps for Kentucky Derby—which will be held on Saturday, September 5, this year)
    • Note that takeout items must be carefully selected as not everything will travel well
  • Safety
  • Pride of ownership

 Additional discussion:

  • Social distancing
    • Distancing of tables
    • Encourage reservations and staggered seating times vs. everyone attending at 4:30 p.m.
    • Dining rooms won’t be filled since there will be so many different types of services (market cafe, takeout, sit-down dining, etc.)
    • Staying 6 feet apart will be the new norm
  • Signage
    • Essential signs (floor/reminder to stay 6 feet apart)
    • General signage that assures residents, staff and visitors of the extra precautions your community is taking to keep them safe (washing hands/hand sinks)
  • Dining updates
    • We’ve reopened our dining rooms, but only at 25% capacity. They are being used at all hours (7 a.m.–7 p.m. for bistro and 5–8 p.m. for fine dining)
    • Our bistro is open with limited service times

Join the next sales & marketing roundtable on July 30!

  • Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, July 30, at noon ET.

Mark Ingram from SenioROI will join us to share his thoughts on direct marketing and list procurement in the time of COVID-19.

For log-in information, contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com

In this post, I’d like to bring awareness to some of the safety issues facing senior living communities. Specifically, I’d like to focus in on the number one cause of accidental death in seniors: falls.

The statistics about falls in aging services are shocking. The costs of falls in senior care are expected to reach $65 billion annually. And falls aren’t only costly, but extremely impactful on the overall health of the aging population. Retirement communities and home care providers are constantly looking for ways to evaluate mitigation strategies and drive better outcomes by reducing falls and proactively preventing them all together. The power to solve this problem lies in the data.

One of the most proactive measures you can take against falls is gathering your first-party data and analyzing it. First-party data, or data that the community or organization owns, is often overlooked, but it’s an incredibly valuable tool. In many instances, it’s mandated by the government or other organizations, so why not use it and put it to work? The way the organization has behaved regarding falls or other issues provides valuable information for future behavior and insights.

WildFig, Varsity’s data analytics partner, has worked with communities to understand their first party fall data and take action using that information. The WildFig team has tackled problems such as falls across the entire analytics continuum through a custom lens. Most notably, the team has developed:

  • Custom dashboards to visualize data around falls
  • Intervention reporting and tracking
  • Root cause analysis around previous fall behaviors and outcomes
  • Predictive models around falls to support population health management
  • A consulting and data-driven framework for healthcare providers to apply to their ongoing workflows around causal impact, benchmarking and intervention strategies

Data is so important to fall prevention because it provides valuable insights into former behavior which can be utilized to inform future outcomes, potential mitigations and strategies focused on proactivity versus being reactive. Oftentimes fall prevention strategies are looking backward versus forward. Our work is aimed at giving communities tools to be ahead of the event versus behind it, whenever possible.

One senior living provider that has been in the early stages of using data for fall analysis and prevention is Meth-Wick Community in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Meth-Wick CEO Robin Mixdorf is a trailblazer, thought leader and big thinker who realized that Meth-Wick had been collecting valuable falls data for several years, but needed it organized into an easy-to-use, simple-to-visualize system. She wanted to find a way to use that data to its best advantage so that the community could plan interventions to help reduce the impact of falls. That’s when she turned to WildFig. The collaboration between the two organizations has achieved exciting outcomes and helped Meth-Wick Community utilize data to impact areas in which changes needed to be made, such as making sure there was the right level of staffing at certain times and places, ensuring that the right floor coverings were in place, and offering balance classes to residents who were at risk for falls.

But what if your organization hasn’t been using your data, or using it to its best ability? First, know that you’re not alone. A recent survey from Black Book Market Research shows that only 3 percent of long-term care communities have the ability for data assessment.

Lack of data-specific staff, lack of in-house resources, other priorities and a variety of other factors impact the use and implementation of data in all organizations, not just communities.  But getting started with using data is well worth the effort. At WildFig, we see data as having many benefits:

  • Makes the experience in a community more personalized
  • Reduces friction
  • Enhances the overall health and wellness of resident
  • Provides opportunities for workforce development as employees gain new skills and expertise
  • Improves communication with family members

If you haven’t been analyzing data up to this point, how should you get started? The best way to begin is with a question. Oftentimes, because of the broader meme of big data, decision makers think through a more complicated lens when it comes to analytics. In its purest form, analytics is about answering questions and providing insights. The questions themselves can range from simple to complex. Falls is only one example: any question a community has can be informed by data.

 

About WildFig

WildFig was founded to help organizations in senior living and other sectors meet increasing demands for efficiency in a complicated marketplace. Our team saw an unmet need for analytics across all industries and we love the challenge and value we can provide. We help our clients navigate the data-driven landscape through mathematical, statistical and computational tools ranging from data mining to forecast modeling.

To learn more about the work WildFig is doing to solve problems for our clients, visit us at wildfigdata.com. If you’d like to discuss how you can harness your data to overcome your organization’s biggest challenges, email us to arrange a consultation.

 

 

 

During Thursday’s roundtable, retirement communities around the country shared sales and marketing strategies that are working during COVID-19. From virtual events to smart home communications, tech is being tapped frequently to reach and attract residents.

Join the next sales and marketing roundtable on July 23!

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, July 23, at noon ET. We will have a speaker from Morrison Living sharing tips to create safer environments.

For log-in information, please contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

During Roundtable #16, community marketers shared the latest news from their campuses as they worked on new sales tactics.

Check out the highlights of our discussion below. Please join us for our next roundtable, coming up this week.

Join the next sales and marketing roundtable on July 16!

Please join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, July 16, at noon ET.

For log-in information, contact DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

 

As more areas open up, communities met virtually for roundtable #14 to discuss this week’s reopenings and answer one another’s questions.

Check out the recap of our discussion below. Please also join us for our next sales and marketing roundtable, coming up this week.

Questions from attendees:

What can our resident panel talk about in an upcoming Zoom call?

Ideas discussed:

  • Ask residents to share what they’ve been up to on campus (and the fun they’re having)
  • Talk about dining and activities
  • Discuss safety protocols in place
  • Talk about how the administration communicates with residents and keeps them engaged
    • Were you respected as a resident and individual?
    • How did the community try to keep life as normal as possible?
    • Do you have any regrets or wish you were still at home? (Use caution on this one; make sure you know what the resident will say)
  • Contrast social engagement vs. social isolation

One participant asked about struggling with visually interacting with prospects since they can’t meet in person. How do residents interact with people? Is a Zoom meeting better than a Zoom webinar platform?

Ideas discussed:

  • Webinars are good for larger conferences, and meetings seem to be better for more personal interactions with fewer than 10 to 15 people
  • Zoom meetings allow for breakout rooms and more personal conversations
  • Strive to book a private Zoom meeting in the days following a presentation to have a more personal conversation

We will explore this topic more in next week’s roundtable.

Join the next roundtable on July 2!

Come kick off the holiday weekend at our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, July 2, at noon ET.

You don’t have to be a client to join — all are welcome. For call-in information, email DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

 

 

June is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month. To draw attention to memory issues, Jennifer Honeyford, senior director of resident life and performance improvement at The Philadelphia Protestant Home (PPH), is sharing the community’s innovative programs and her personal experience with caring for people with dementia.

Walking in Their Shoes

It’s so important to really understand what life is like for people with dementia. One of the projects we started at the end of 2018 was to increase our staff knowledge of this condition. We surveyed everyone and asked them what they wanted to know, and then, we looked for educational programs that would teach those topics. We found that almost everyone has a personal connection with the disease, as well as a professional one. The staff were really open to the education.

One of the initiatives that came out of the survey was a virtual dementia tour, which we are now licensed through Second Wind Dreams to operate on campus. We are able to offer this sensitivity training program through a grant that was funded through the Ron S! Charitable Fund and the Anna T. Jeanes Foundation.

The tour is basically eight minutes in the world of someone living with moderate-stage dementia. Our staff are assigned a time to come into a room we have set up. They are outfitted with glasses that distort vision. They wear a headset with sound running through it that gives them auditory hallucinations. They wear thick, heavy gloves, which limit their ability to grasp and touch. Finally, they have eight minutes in the room to complete five tasks — which are virtually impossible to complete in that time.

Feedback Has Been Phenomenal

We’ve had about 65 staff members including upper management go through the training, as well as some family members. They describe it as “powerful” and “humbling.” After going through the experience, staff members have said they will never be impatient again. They say things like, “I felt so isolated, so alone. I had no idea how hard it is to have dementia. I will be patient, I will be kind.”

What’s beautiful is that they are experiencing the disease firsthand. The learning is theirs — they are interpreting it for themselves.

If we who have healthy brains can act as if we have dementia, then why can’t someone who has dementia better navigate this condition if we alter their environment? By understanding how confusing and overwhelming life with dementia is, we can look for those things that might be triggering and upsetting and help them to better navigate their daily landscape.

Why I Entered the Memory Care Field

My whole life, I’ve had an overactive imagination. Health care was just a good fit for me — especially dementia care, because you have to be able to enter people’s worlds and see things from their perspective. I started in health care, directing recreation therapy, then I moved into a senior director role. I provide administrative oversight to our recreation therapy and life enrichment departments, including Chapters, the memory care program at PPH. I’ve been here for 22 years, and I feel like I’ve grown up here.

What Residents with Dementia Have Taught Me

I think that what residents with dementia have taught me is to enjoy the simple things in life — to be kind,  genuine and patient.

You have to be able to imagine where they are because you want to be able to understand them and be empathetic to their needs. That’s what excites me most — being able to come up with a solution to a problem. We look at the person’s leisure interests and former occupation to give us cues so we can offer them purpose and enable them to do things for themselves.

One way we help employees from all areas of PPH gain understanding of residents with memory issues is through a certified dementia practitioner (CDP) program, led by four certified on-site trainers, including myself. Fifty staff members from all disciplines have taken the training, which has proven invaluable to them. Read more about the PPH dementia training program here. To learn more about  CDP credentials, please visit nccdp.org.

No matter what we remember or what we forget, we still have that human need for purpose — we need to be seen, valued and heard. I want to treat people with dementia with the dignity and respect that they have earned. They deserve that.

 

Today, Stacy Hollinger Main, a partner and interior designer at RLPS Architects, is sharing her philosophy and advice on senior living design. RLPS is an award-winning firm located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, that specializes in architecture and interior design for a variety of industries, including senior living, assisted living and dementia/memory care. Stacy has 28 years of design experience and has spent 21 of those years designing senior living communities at RLPS.

What is your philosophy on senior living design?

First of all, it’s important to understand that it’s not “senior living” design — it’s about good design, period. We take the approach of looking at design from a holistic point of view with a nod to hospitality design, but scaled appropriately for people who are living there.

To appeal to Baby Boomers, designs must be contemporary and reflect the distinctive experiences and lifestyle offered to those moving into a particular community. It’s tailored to people who have the desire to live in housing that’s beautiful and well maintained with a lot of amenities — but designed appropriately for the people who are using it.

Take carpet, for instance. It may look rich, but there are a lot of factors that we take into consideration behind the scenes. The carpet has to be able to handle rolling traffic, such as wheelchairs, scooters and walkers. And it’s not just about the items that assist the residents to keep them ambulatory; it’s also about the staff — whatever they’re pushing and navigating, such as med carts. It’s often a matter of weighing the options with our clients for each particular application. Carpet is typically more homelike and helps with acoustics, but it’s easier to propel rolling traffic over hard surfaces.

What advice would you give senior living communities?

Communities need to stay current and fresh because the competition is high, and trends change constantly. Just as you want to update your own wardrobe, you want to make sure that your floors and walls are all up-to-date.

Our goal is to create timeless communities that speak to the brand and reinforce it across all levels of care. However, it’s easy for communities to get out of date. You don’t want people to be fearful to go to a higher level of care, such as assisted living or memory care, because the spaces look outdated and not as nice as independent living.

That’s why it’s important to include interior design in your master planning. Your community needs to put a refresh of its design into the capital budget. You need to evaluate every aspect of your decor at least every 8–10 years, although you can change things like paint and accessories more often for a refreshed look.

 What are your favorite projects?

In the end, once we’ve had that ribbon-cutting ceremony, and we hear people walking through the rooms, experiencing the design for the first time and talking about it, feeling happy — those are our favorite projects. It’s really about the way the design has improved their lives. And it’s not just about the people who are living there; it’s about staff, too. If we’ve been able to help a staff member do his or her job better and promote health or wellness because of the materials we’ve used, it’s impacting people’s lives for the better.

We do projects across the U.S. They’re all challenging and all unique. We don’t do cookie-cutter projects. We are creating a unique atmosphere for the community while striving to create trust, open communication and a positive end result for our client. Those are the best projects — when a client is asking us to come back to do the next one.

What do you like most about your job?

When you look at a room, when you look at space, it’s more than six sides of a box; it’s the potential for creativity. When we start to fill the box with the interior elements, we look at the floor, walls and ceiling. We think about acoustics and window treatments and lighting and accessories. In the end, it’s all about the people who are using the space. What I like most about my job is seeing people who are enjoying the space as they work and live here.

The goal for design is all about creating an environment to inspire people and transform lives. Our goal at RLPS is to do that in all aspects of our design, not just in senior living.

 

 

Communities in different parts of the country came together last Thursday to share their thoughts and challenges as shutdowns continue. Jackie Stone, VP of sales at Varsity, joined our general discussion to share insights on virtual event topics and processes during social distancing.

Check out the takeaways below. You are also welcome to join our next sales & marketing roundtable, coming up this week.

Jackie leads a discussion on virtual presentations:

  • Presentation objectives
    • New lead generation
      • Use the purchased email list and lead base
      • Select universal topics of interest to anyone
      • Ensure that the presentation represents the lifestyle at the community and reinforces the established brand
    • Sales presentation
      • Target the lead base
      • Address common objections
        • “I’m not ready yet.”
        • “I want to stay independent.”
        • “I’ve lived here for 50 years; I don’t know where to start.”
        • “This apartment is so small.”
        • “I don’t want to live with all old people.”
        • “How would I even go about selling my home?”
        • “The economy/stock market is unstable.”
      • Personalize to the prospect
        • Customized to each individual prospect — what he or she values in life and in a community
  • Potential presentation topics
    • New lead generation
      • Mindfulness — Putting Your Practice Into Place
      • Healthy Aging: Achieving Wellness in All Dimensions
      • Living a Big Life
      • Dispelling the Myths of Retirement Living
    • Sales presentations
      • Decluttering Your Life to Make Room for Experiences
      • Living a Big Life
      • Bridging the Gap Between “I’m Not Ready Yet” and “I Wish I Had Done This Sooner”
      • Protecting Your Nest Egg
      • Does a Life Plan Community Make Sense for Me?
      • Selling Your Home in a Virtual World
    • Personalizing to the prospect
      • Presentation of the community’s services, amenities, residences and benefits
      • Video walking tour of the community
      • Happy hour Zoom call
  • Marketing automation
    • Targeting prospects
      • Email seminar invitation
      • Confirmation and login instructions
      • Resending of seminar invitation to those that did not open the original email
      • Reminder email two days prior to the event
    • Communicating with those who did attend
      • Post-webinar “Thank you for joining us”
      • Survey
      • What other topics might interest you?
      • Schedule a private appointment?
      • Next seminar invitation
    • Communicating with those who did not attend
      • “We missed you” email
    • Schedule a private appointment?
    • Next seminar invitation
  • Typical attendance expectations
    • We’ve seen anywhere from 7–10, 25–30 and close to 50, so it can really vary.

Where are you doing to go from here with marketing?

  • It depends on your community.
    • Examples:
      • One community is stretched for dollars because of the current bond market.
      • Other communities may have more money to spend, with cancelling in-person marketing events.
    • You may need to move dollars around in your budget. The focus will need to be on engaging prospects in blue sky projects. If you don’t use the money this year, you won’t have it next year! Spend it wisely, and don’t let it go.
    • An AL community in New York has online events/speakers every week. It’s very buttoned up and structured — link to check out: https://inspireseniorliving.com/events.
    • I think we’ll be Zooming for a long time.
    • Follow these virtual call tips.
      • Do a roll call.
      • Ask what participants miss during this time of quarantine. If they say Starbucks, deliver a coffee to their doorstep.

Join the next sales & marketing roundtable on June 4!

We thank everyone for participating, and we invite you to join the next session on Thursday, June 4, at 12 p.m. ET.

You don’t have to be a client to join — all are welcome. For call-in information, email DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

 

 

As social distancing continues, communities came together for roundtable #9 to share their ideas and challenges. Robinson Smith, creative director at Varsity, joined our discussion to share insights on brand-centric messaging during quarantine.

Check out the takeaways below. You are also welcome to join our next sales & marketing roundtable, coming up this week.

Insights from Rob’s discussion on creative messaging:

Rob shared this video, which essentially highlights how painfully similar much of the COVID-19 advertising is.

  • Every commercial is exactly the same, with catchphrases like: “uncertain times,” “home” and “together.”
  • Brands want to let you know they were there for you in the past, are with you now and will be with you moving forward. While these messages of hope and empathy are important as we move forward, it’s critical not to lose sight of the brands we’ve worked so hard to establish. We need to make sure we’re not abandoning them, especially as normal community marketing will not return for quite some time.
  • While all communities want to communicate that they care about the safety of their team members and residents, they also should make sure that they are talking about their BRANDS and are leveraging the messages that they have put out into the marketplace and established over time.
  • At Varsity, we talk about branding and brand personalities in terms of archetypes. The caregiver archetype is typically the archetype of industry, so it’s not a long-term solution for individual community branding as we go forward. Communities need to be intentional about expressing their own voices — explorers, magicians, lovers — and make sure that the things that set them apart from competitors are being stated in true, unique and compelling ways.

Join the next sales & marketing roundtable on May 28!

We thank everyone for participating, and we invite you to join the next session on Thursday, May 28, at 12 p.m. ET.

Jackie Stone, Varsity VP of sales, will be joining us for part of the session to share her insights on virtual event topics and processes.

You don’t have to be a client to join — all are welcome. For call-in information, email DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

In roundtable #8, communities brainstormed and asked for suggestions about marketing during COVID-19. Cory Lorenz, Varsity media director, joined our discussion to share insights on media consumption during this period of social distancing.

Check out the takeaways below. You are also welcome to attend our next sales & marketing roundtable, coming up this week.

Cory Lorenz shares insights on media consumption:

 Overall points:

  • Everyone is isolated — not just seniors.
  • Media consumption is up 60 percent since the quarantine.
  • Netflix has over 2MM new members.
  • Google keywords around senior living are up to record levels.
    • Advertisers like AARP are spending more than ever before on digital ($17.6MM since 3/13/20).
  • Coming out of COVID-19, consumers are increasingly adopting free, ad-supported streaming services compared to paid streaming services.

Differentiating services:

  • MVPD (multi-channel video programming distributor)
  • OTT (over the top):
  • CTV (connected TV):

Discussion:

How communities are putting broadcast to work:

“We bought cable through Comcast, and we targeted typical stations for seniors (news, weather, HGTV, etc.). We’ve seen some good interest, and it supports the lift we’ve seen in online metrics (along with mailers and other online media). The spot was previously produced, and we thought it would be nice to show lifestyle and happiness vs. the COVID message.”

Join the next sales & marketing roundtable on May 21!

We thank everyone for participating, and we invite you to join the next session on Thursday, May 21, at noon ET.

This week, Robinson Smith, creative director at Varsity, will join our general discussion for part of the session to share his perspective on branding in a time of changing messaging.

You don’t have to be a client to join — all are welcome. For call-in information, email DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

 

 

 

Today’s blog is a guest post by Michael Whitlow, MBA, senior regional manager, sales & marketing services division at Greystone Communities, on giving virtual tours. Previous to his time at Greystone, Michael worked in a broad range of related industries, including pharmaceutical, senior living and home health.

I’d like to share some tips on giving virtual tours that started with a webinar I gave.

A little background: When the situation with COVID-19 started, our company very quickly began to do Zoom calls, and everyone said, “We need to ask your sales teams to do virtual tours because of the restrictions at communities.” But what’s worse than doing a virtual tour? Doing a bad one. That’s where the idea for the webinar began.

The reason it’s critical to pay attention to the virtual medium is that, based on statistics I’ve heard, about half of senior living communities are not doing any virtual events or touring. This opens this area up for those who are doing them to get ahead of the game.

Statistics also show that 80% of communities that are doing virtual events are not doing them well. There’s a big opportunity to stand out from the competition by doing excellent virtual tours.

These tips and talking points might seem silly, but following them really makes for a better experience. You have to pay attention to the small things. Here are some tips for a successful virtual tour:

  • Get buy-in to the tour beforehand
    • Be a resource: If the person expresses nervousness about using technology, it gives you the opportunity to say, “Let me teach you how to do this. I’ll be glad to walk you through it so you can use it with your family and friends.” That way, you’re being of value and are a trusted resource.
    • Show empathy: You can say, “Hey, I’d love for you to see me and me to see you and show you our community.” Be friendly and empathetic.
  • Use FaceTime for ease of use and connection with your prospect (assuming both have Apple devices) If not, click here for a list of suggestions:
  • Invest in a stand and Steadicam attachment
    • Test out the best ways to use the camera.
    • Film from above.
    • Don’t stand in front of a light source.
    • Don’t put the camera too close to your face.
    • Look at the camera, not your picture.
  • Have a plan
    • Create an outline — it’s easy to get lost when standing in front of the lights.
    • Plan and trial run the tour route.
    • Keep handy a FAQ sheet and information on features and benefits.
    • You never want to walk away from the camera to get your notes; have them close by.
    • Role-play a live tour first
  • It’s time to shine!
    • “Sit, tour, sit” still applies, but location may vary.
    • When not touring, secure your camera. (Use a tri-pod, prop it up with books, etc. You don’t want a lot of movement so the person watching loses focus.)
    • While touring, stick with one view.
    • Keep the camera facing away from you.
    • Slow down: Pause for 3–5 seconds before moving to a new view.
    • Be smooth.
  • Postproduction
    • Blend “new school” with “old school.”
      • Handwritten letters as a follow-up are really welcomed right now.
    • Don’t forget the process: “sales cycle.”
      • You aren’t just doing a fun little tour; you are moving people through the same sales process you normally would. This is a selling tool, not “I’m going to show you something fun and then let you go.”
    • If it’s not in the CRM, it didn’t happen!
      • Virtual tours need to be part of our new normal. Like any part of the sales cycle, the tour should go right into the CRM, with a full write-up.
  • Tips during the discussion
    • Avoid showing residents. Prospects want to see public spaces and apartments.
    • How long? Ask the people up front if they have 15–20 minutes for the tour.
    • Prepare a video you can share separately.
    • If you’re working from home, it’s still good to have a video discussion. You could have somebody in the community take footage and share it with you.
  • Results
    • In a short period of time, people are getting strong results. Two of the communities I work with took a deposit after a virtual tour last week.
  • What’s next?
    • Whoever starts to deal with the current environment really well right now is going to have an advantage. Virtual tours are a great selling tool that you can continue to use even after coronavirus. Here are some things your community can do to stay ahead:
      • Make sure you have a Steadicam ready to go.
      • Train all employees to do virtual tours.
      • Bring a family member who lives far away into the decision process by including them in a virtual tour with the prospect.
      • Find new applications for virtual technology:
        • Use it to communicate with your vendors.
        • Give virtual tours of your community over lunch hours to busy social workers, nurses and physicians.

Remember: The more tools you have for selling, the better. Again, since only half of communities are using virtual events, and only 20% of those are doing them well, this is your opportunity to get out in front of your competition. Take advantage of it.

About Greystone

Greystone has been a recognized leader in senior living consulting for over 35 years. The organization works with more than 500 owners and sponsors in more than 46 states and manages 50+ communities. Learn more about Greystone.

 

 

 

Today, Stacy Hollinger Main, a partner and interior designer at RLPS Architects, is sharing a guest post on the latest trends in senior living design. RLPS is an award-winning firm located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, that specializes in architecture and interior design for a variety of industries, including senior living, assisted living and dementia/memory care. Stacy has 28 years of design experience and has spent 21 of those years designing senior living communities at RLPS.

Here are some of the design trends I’m seeing in the senior living space right now:

Healthy design materials

During this time of the coronavirus crisis, it’s more important than ever to use products that safely combat the spread of bacteria in materials for flooring, door hardware, seating, etc. When we select products for our clients’ communities, we not only make sure that they can be easily maintained and cleaned, but that they include materials that aren’t harmful to people or the environment. One example is copper, a naturally self-sanitizing material that can be used in bed rails, door and cabinet hardware and other high-touch surfaces as a healthy alternative to harmful chemicals.

Flexible dining spaces

When we do renovations, we’re focused on flexibility. One trend is creating a bar that can be used as a breakfast spot in the morning, a smoothie bar midday (where residents can come after exercising) and a bar that can be used for happy hour or pre-dining gatherings in the evening.

In terms of seating, booths or banquettes are appealing because people feel they have their own zone. We can create intimate spaces with the appeal of a restaurant for a variety of seating and tables, rather than a sea of furniture that is all the same.

Region-specific design

Communities don’t want to look or feel like Anywhere, USA. They want to reinforce their brand and create spaces that feel relevant and resonate with seniors in their market area. We look at every aspect of our work to make sure that it reflects the vernacular design of the area. For instance, the artwork has to be authentic to the region. For a community we are working with in Florida, that means if we specify artwork featuring birds, they are indigenous to the west coast of Florida — not birds you might find in North Carolina. The designs we do for communities in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, aren’t going to look like the ones we’re doing in New Hampshire or Florida.

Holistic amenities

Another huge trend is pushing the limits on amenities. Instead of just a salon where you can get your hair done, clients want to see spaces that convey a multidimensional, holistic approach to wellness in every aspect of the environment.

Multiuse spaces

Spaces need to be very flexible — it’s important to get three or four uses out of them. For example, we created a theater room for a local community. The community doesn’t just use it for movie night; it uses it as a space to interact with other communities (playing competitive Wii bowling against each other), and it sets up equally well as a space for lectures and presentations.

Technology

With the rise of smart homes and intelligent design, the use of technology in senior living is already a major trend. I see technology being incorporated more and more into all levels of care. From an interior design perspective, that means making sure we’ve addressed how people can easily and comfortably connect to technology within their living spaces. Technology also provides opportunities for interactive artwork or screen savers for aesthetic appeal when a screen is not in use.

Look for another blog about Stacy Hollinger Main’s design work coming soon.

To learn more about the way RLPS interior designers work with you to create appealing spaces with lasting value, visit their website.

 

 

 

As COVID-19 continues to impact senior living, we held another virtual roundtable to see what sales & marketing tactics are working now — and what will change at communities after restrictions are lifted. Check out the highlights below.

All are welcome to attend our sales & marketing roundtable next week. Details below.

Join the next sales & marketing roundtable on April 30!

We thank everyone for participating, and we invite you to join the next session, Thursday, April 30, at noon ET.

Kim Lehman, Varsity’s PR director, will join us for part of the session to share tips and trends on PR/crisis communications.

You don’t have to be a client to join the session — all are welcome. For call-in information, email DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

Response to our COVID-19 conversations continues to be enthusiastic, so we held Sales & Marketing Roundtable #3 last week. For those who weren’t able to make it,  the high points are below.

We’re gathering for our next virtual discussion this week, and all are invited to attend.

 

Join the next roundtable on April 16!

We thank everyone for participating, and we invite you to join the next session on Thursday, April 16, at noon ET, for a sales & marketing discussion.

You don’t have to be a client to join the conversation — all are welcome. For call-in information, email DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

 

 

When was the last time you experienced truly exceptional customer service? I pondered this question when I recently pursued the somewhat aggravating task of purchasing a new car. As much as I anxiously anticipated the thrill of “new car smell,” I recognized that the sales process might be far from enjoyable. Based on past experience, it was evident that choosing the right dealership(s) was key to elevating my overall customer satisfaction.

As I found myself returning to the group of car dealerships that had exceeded my expectations for the past 15 years, I reflected on what this organization does that exhibits the optimum service model. I came back to five points:

  1. Consistent processes, values and branding: The dealerships under the same umbrella, regardless of the actual “brand” of car I’m considering purchasing, maintain an ongoing relationship with me. They have established records of my buying history.
  2. Anticipation of the customer’s needs: The dealers keep me informed of promotions and cars I might want to purchase and/or lease even before I’m actually ready AND are prepared with background of my likes and dislikes when I actually arrive at the lot.
  3. White glove service: The dealers show care and attention to every detail of my needs, from purchase through all stages of the relationship. This includes: follow-up calls to see if everything is going well; calls from various team members to help me, even when they’re on vacation; referrals to the right people to help me with specific questions, such as a technology walk-through (not just being told to read the manual); the ability to come into any of the dealerships at any time with any concerns about the car after purchase (regardless of whether there is a service appointment); immediate service as soon as I walk in the door with no lag time; bumping up the time when my car is ready even though I didn’t ask.
  4. “Servanthood” in action: A true atmosphere of service is shown at every level, regardless of role, and there is accountability. Team members, through their words and actions, set aside self-serving behaviors in favor of serving others — they serve both their colleagues and peers, as well as the customer.
  5. Honest communication: The team members are transparent in their communications. Nothing is hidden, and it isn’t just for their own benefit, but for mine as well. When I recently bought my new car, I wasn’t “surprised” by anything before, during or after the deal, even when I turned in my previous car.

It occurred to me that these practices are not only lived by Varsity but are integral to the strategies we develop and employ for our clients as well. When consistently implemented, customers are pleased, the team feels good about its accomplishments, and the workplace thrives with a culture of helpfulness. The ultimate reward is that both the people and the organization are better for it in morale, revenue, image, brand and more…and don’t we all need a little dose of BETTER these days? I’m happy I was a recent recipient, with the added bonus of a shiny new car! 😊

 

 

 

As the clock ticks down to 2020, we look back on another exciting year for the Varsity blog! Here’s a countdown of our five most popular posts for 2019. It’s a grab bag of hot-button topics, from groundbreaking wellness ideas to intergenerational brainstorms.

5. 18-year-old Jumps Into Life at Senior Community

In this interview with out-of-the-box thinker Rosemary Ramsey, she reveals her inspiration for The Victory Lap, a one-of-a-kind program that pairs youth aging out of foster care with senior communities. Read about an intergenerational program that could change senior living.

4. Overheard at LeadingAge TN: What if…

Our VP of Client Services Derek Dunham takes us inside the “what-if” moments of the 2019 LeadingAge TN Annual Meeting & EXPO. Explore “what-if” moments.

3. Disruption in Senior living — Opportunity or Threat?

From shrinking staff to the growing middle market, Derek Dunham disrupts our world with the highlights of the 2019 PAHSA conference. Get disrupted.   

2. 10 Leadership Secrets From LeadingAge PA

This series chronicles the year-long journey of LeadingAge PA’s Fellows in Leadership program. In this post, Brian Mailliard and Sakkara El share what they’ve learned at the halfway mark of their adventure. Learn the secrets of leading well.

1. When It Comes to Wellness, Nothing’s off the Table

Our most-read post of the year was a fascinating conversation between Becky Anhorn, the inspirational wellness director at Meadowood Senior Living, and Rob Smith, Varsity’s creative director. Read about a groundbreaking approach to wellness.

That’s our countdown of top posts for 2019! Stay tuned for more fresh content in 2020, and please contact us if you’d like to do a guest post or be interviewed for an upcoming blog.

 

I was fortunate to attend the LeadingAge PA Fellows in Leadership graduation ceremony in Allentown, PA. I came away with some serious leadership envy. It was obvious that during this year-long program, the group had become extremely tight knit and the Fellows had grown very comfortable around one another. You could tell they really appreciated being able to bounce ideas off their new network of peers and having very supportive and approachable leaders within each group.

At one point, there was an exercise where people went around the room and commented on each other’s strengths. They gave thoughtful and sincere answers and you could tell that their words were from the heart.

The sentiments shared at the larger meeting were echoed by two people I spoke with in more depth: Diane Burfeindt, Vice President of Population Health at Presbyterian Senior Living, a coach, and Brian Mailliard, CFO at St. Paul’s Senior Living Community, a Fellow. Both were part of the same small group.

As we discussed the year-long journey, the two remembered back to the first day. At first, Brian was hesitant to try the program. He didn’t know what to expect. “My hesitation went away – day one – minutes into the first session,” he said. “The program changed my whole approach to leadership.”

During the year the group was together, Diane found it interesting that many participants underwent changes and growth in their responsibilities and titles. “Change can be scary, even if it’s a positive thing,” she said.  “Luckily, they had the group to fall back on. Typically, you don’t have people to talk to about work. This was a safe place where people could talk about their challenges.”

Brian seconded that thought. “Before when I would have a difficult situation or tough conversation at work, I felt like I was out on an island — who could I ever talk to that had that experience? Now that we’ve gone through this program, we can pick up the phone and call someone.”

The group plans to keep on being that support system for one another through phone calls and meetings. “One of the most important parts of the leadership academy is what happens after it’s over,” Diane said.

Both Diane and Brian agreed that leadership isn’t a destination, it’s a lifelong journey.

“It continues to remind me every year – leadership is a process and you’re never done,” Diane said. “It’s growth and a part of life – it’s not separate from your personal life. If you think you know it all as a person, then you sort of stagnate. It’s nice to be with the Fellows and the class and get out of your daily routine and remind yourself of that.”

“This program is only one tool,” Brian added. “The biggest realization is that you’ve got to always be working at leadership. Whether it’s reading or conferences or signing up for specific programs — if you don’t make it an intentional part of your career then you’re going to get caught up in the day to day and put it off.”

One of the most fascinating components of the program was the final project each Fellow had to present. Brian completed his on a program called Share Care, an innovative housing solution for low-income seniors. Stay tuned for more details in a guest post from Brian.

 

 

Today’s blog is contributed by Kim Lehman, Varsity’s PR Strategist. Kim has more than 25 years of experience developing and implementing public relations campaigns for a diverse roster of clients, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Ad Council, The Coca-Cola Company, Kohl’s, Johnson & Johnson, Messiah Lifeways, Presby’s Inspired Life and many more.

Kim has placed stories for her clients with top-tier and trade outlets, including Today, Good Morning America, Real Simple, The New York Times, O —The Oprah Magazine, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Business Journals, WSJ, USA Today, 50Plus Life, McKnight’s and Senior Living News, among others.

Today, I’d like to challenge you to ask yourself an important question: Are you telling your organization’s story? Every organization has a story to tell — you just need to find the most impactful way to package it up and deliver it to a broader audience.

Here are some time-tested tips and strategies that have proven effective in telling the stories of my clients’ communities.

Tip 1: Contact the media when you don’t have anything to announce
It’s so important to build relationships with the industry and your local journalists so that when you do need to make an announcement or handle a crisis, you have already made a connection. It can be as easy as sending a quick email or making a phone call to introduce yourself as a resource for future stories.

Tip 2: Know the reporters that cover your market
Learn who covers senior living, then read their articles and follow them on social media. Drop the person a note and say, “I found your article about (TOPIC) interesting because…”  Take it a step forward and share his or her article on your social media channels. Everyone likes a good share!

Tip 3: Attend conferences
Many times, industry journalists are open to learning more about your organization. Book 15-minute one-on-one interviews with these reporters and offer something of value or uniqueness to them. It’s a great way to start building relationships.

Tip 4: Think local
Everyone wants stories in large dailies, but the hyper-local papers are just as important and most often are looking for content.

Tip 5: Spotlight the people that make your community unique
The residents and staff who live and work in your community are what make you truly different. Think about how you can highlight their special qualities in feature stories. Tell these stories through traditional media outlets and share them on your social media channels.

Tip 6: Tap into teachable moments
Look at events that happen throughout the year, such as Older Americans Month in May. Create an editorial calendar to make sure you don’t miss out on times of the year to pitch a story about your community.

Tip 7: Always ask, “What’s the visual?”
If you want coverage for an event, you have to think about what’s going to be visually interesting about it, especially if you want local TV stations to attend your event. Most newspapers and magazines are online too, so think about what the visual is for them, as well. They, too, are looking for video content and photography that can bring a story to life, be shareable and get clicks.

Tip 8: Connect with local universities
If you don’t have money in your budget to hire a professional photographer or videographer, communications departments can connect you with students looking to gain experience.

Tip 9: Think intergenerational
One of our clients hired high school students to help set up residents’ iPads and their mobile phones, download apps, etc. Bringing older adults and high school students together made for a great story!

Tip 10. Have a crisis plan
If there’s any type of incident at your community, it’s really important to have a strategic plan with a designated team in place to execute it. Stay tuned for more about this in an upcoming blog post.

Tip 11: Get social
As traditional media continues to downsize, social media is going to be even more important in your overall communications strategy. It’s important to have a cohesive plan among all of your teams and communities.

Tip 12: Position yourself as an expert
Journalists are always looking for unique stories and fresh perspectives that include new data and research findings. Op Ed pieces, proprietary research and participation in polls are all effective ways to position your community as an expert.

Tip 13: Ask, will the audience care?
Put yourself in the reporter’s shoes. You may think something is really interesting, but not everything is newsworthy.

Tip 14: Take advantage of outside expertise
If you are struggling to uncover your story and tell that story in a meaningful way, then look to hire an agency with a PR strategist. They most likely will have existing relationships with the industry media as well as local market outlets that they can leverage on your behalf. They will be able to assist you with crafting key messaging, media training your spokespeople and pitching your stories to media outlets that matter most to your organization.

Tip 15: Have fun!
Telling your community’s story can be fun — whether you’re throwing an event or sharing a story about a resident who skydives. Incorporate these tips and you’ll be on your way to telling your unique story to the broader community.

Coming in a future Varsity blog: I will share my thoughts on crisis PR.

Today I’m talking with Maura Z. Richards, Vice President of Business Development at Wohlsen Construction, a top-ranked construction company specializing in senior living. Prior to her current position, Maura spent more than 15 years working in senior living as a provider and consultant, giving her unique insights into finding solutions that are economically and operationally viable to increase occupancy.

Hello, Maura! Thank you for talking to me today! What do you view as the biggest challenge facing older adults in the middle market?

The affordability of senior living communities. We have not completely solved the middle market product challenges to serve the number of seniors that will need to move to — specifically  — an assisted living or memory care community. Seniors will stay home as long as possible — which more times than not means too late — due to the fact that they do not have enough money to afford a senior living community.

What are some common misconceptions about the middle market?

People get confused when you talk about the middle market. They think middle market housing is affordable, but it’s really not. It’s essentially less costly than a traditional senior community, but it’s still expensive. The middle market community is much smaller in size and has more of a model of two bedrooms sharing a kitchen and bath. This type of living arrangement is not one that a prospect seeks until there is a need.  Having been in senior living for many years, I can share that this is not what you want to hear when a prospect comes through the door. You want prospects to move to a community when they are independent  and not making a need-based decision so that they are content with the move and will take full advantage of the lifestyle a senior living community offers.

What are the biggest barriers to building for the middle market?

Building costs and land cost — with both being high, the financial model is hard to pencil out to be affordable for the middle market. Developers look for sites that are outside urban areas to keep land costs down. However, to make the community pencil out, there typically is less amenity space and an apartment layout in which two individual prospects share a kitchen and bathroom.

What is the biggest competition for middle market housing?

People’s own homes and technology. If people can stay in their home and install smart home technology for less than it costs to move to a senior living community, then they will always choose their own home. They will then wait until there is a need to move to a community. The struggle from a proforma perspective is that the higher the acuity level of the residents, the more staffing the community needs.  With that comes higher entrance fees and monthly fees.

Since studies have found that, by 2029, 54 percent of older adults will not be able to afford private pay senior living, how will the industry as a whole need to change? 

The industry will need to look to partner with other organizations to create a mixed-use development that taps several housing options to share in the cost of the amenity space to bring down the cost of senior living.

What types of organizations would be good partners for senior living?

Maybe there is an option for senior living to partner with intergenerational housing options to form a mixed-use development. For example, many universities need additional student housing yet are faced with high construction costs just like senior living. There could be an opportunity for developers to look at student housing and senior housing to share in amenity and community space to lower the costs for both. This would also allow both populations to take advantage of the educational opportunities.

Do you have any other creative ideas that could benefit the middle market?

Another idea I have thought about from a socialization standpoint is to build senior centers on or next to local public schools to leverage intergenerational opportunities and programs. High schools are being renovated all over the country and facing issues of getting funding passed. Why not look at combining the two? The more our younger population interacts with and understands senior needs, the more we will see solutions to take care of older adults in the future. To get youths to understand seniors, you have to put them together.

 

 

At the 2019 LeadingAge Tennessee Conference and EXPO, an entire audience of people sat together quietly, eyes closed, remembering how they felt on the first day of school.

After several minutes, the presenter had them open their eyes and share their feelings. Emotions ranged from fear and excitement to nervousness and anxiety.

Why did presenter Melissa Ward, PT, MS, RAC-CT, Vice President of Clinical and Regulatory Affairs at Functional Pathways, have the audience do this exercise? She wanted to evoke the emotions students and parents feel on the first day of school, which is very similar to the way residents and their loved ones may feel on their first day in a retirement community.

Trying to find your way around an unfamiliar place can be a tremendous adjustment, and the move can be just as stressful for families leaving their loved ones. But there are ways to help the transition go more smoothly, like the techniques described in this recent article in McKnight’s Senior Living. And now, new residents and their families have another powerful resource to draw on: a unique program developed by the Functional Pathways team.

According to Ward, the Transition Concierge Program began as a “what-if” idea about two years ago. “A client community was  struggling with having residents successfully age in place,” Ward said. “New residents came in and weren’t engaged in community life. They weren’t taking advantage of everything available on the campus. This issue was leading to increased risk for falls and residents requiring higher levels of care.”

That’s when the Functional Pathways Team, led by Beth Reigart, Clinical Outcomes Specialist, decided to create the new Transition Concierge Program. This collaborative approach brings together a powerful arsenal of tools, including social services, nursing, therapy, activities, wellness, resident programming, resident support groups, resources for the family, on-campus physician services and more. By making the transition smoother, the program helps residents successfully age in place.

How the Transition Concierge Program Works

When the resident moves in, a Navigation Team conducts in-depth standardized assessments. Then, an Interdisciplinary Team creates a plan of individualized support. Every element is geared toward giving the individual input into his or her own life.

Here are a couple of examples: If a resident has breathing problems, he or she may need a plan that addresses limitations in endurance to make it possible to get to the bistro. If a resident has low vision, apartment modifications or a plan to get and read mail may be needed. Every resident adjusts to resident living at a different rate, according to Ward. The program was designed to provide services and support that fit each individual’s unique needs.

More Than Just a Real Estate Transaction

The Functional Pathways team believes that moving into an independent living community should be “more than just a real estate transaction.” It’s fostering a true continuum of care through this innovative service.

New residents may still face those first-day-of-school jitters. Fortunately, this innovative collaboration helps ease the transition so they can find passion and purpose in their new environment.

How is your community helping resident transitions go more smoothly? Let me know at DDunham@VarsityBranding.com. I’d love to feature your strategies in an upcoming blog post.

 

A solution to occupancy challenges can come from someplace you never expected, like foster care.

When you think about it, it’s a natural combination: Youth aging out of foster care need a job and a place to stay. Senior communities have empty housing, job vacancies and caring mentors. But no one has thought to bring the two together — until now.

Rosemary Ramsey, the director of The Victory Lap, got this unique idea while she was employed at Brookdale Senior Living and volunteering with Monroe Harding, a nonprofit that helps foster kids that are aging out of the system.

How The Victory Lap Began 

“I was sitting at my desk at Brookdale, thinking about occupancy challenges. At the same time, I was volunteering with kids aging out of foster care. I saw their issues of finding employment, housing and connection to caring adults,” Ramsey said. “It kind of hit me that my worlds could collide in a productive way.”

“The truth of the matter is, a lot of these kids never get adopted,” she went on. “Twenty-two thousand kids age out every year in America. At least 30 percent of them will experience homelessness — and every one that bottoms out costs tax payers over a million dollars.”

In addition to occupancy challenges at communities, there’s also a nationwide labor shortage. “There are tons of entry-level opportunities in senior housing,” said Ramsey.

She also feels that great relationships can develop between residents and youths aging out of foster care. “There are three things older people universally love,” she said. “Mail, ice cream and young people.”

Cannonballing Into Community Life

John, the first participant, age 18, liked the idea right away. “It was an opportunity for him to have his own space. In the group home, you have to share a kitchen and a bathroom,” Ramsey said. “He also liked the idea of being around seniors because he was close with his grandparents. And he loved the pool.” That’s why, to celebrate John’s move-in, the local TV station shot a video of him cannonballing into the community’s pool. Watch it here.

John will attend college this fall while working part time and living at East Ridge Residence, an independent living community. He’ll receive oversight and counseling from a local nonprofit: Partnership for Families, Children and Adults.

Now that her program is up and running, Ramsey is looking forward to future placements. “This is not just a touchy, feel-good opportunity. It has real, practical economic benefits,” she stressed. “Retirement communities can not only fulfill their need for employees, and contribute with some living spaces not in use, but they can actually receive a stipend from the state for helping provide housing.”

In senior living, she said, “intergenerational” is a popular buzzword, referring to initiatives like Girl Scouts coming in to read stories, but Ramsey thinks that it can be taken a lot further. “I think it’s a marketing advantage — a place where older people and younger people live together,” she said.

Expanding the Program

Eventually, Ramsey would like to expand the program to populations beyond the foster demographic, such as veterans and people who are developmentally disabled. “Our industry is sitting on 100,000 vacancies. Let’s try to make a dent in our occupancy challenges and think outside the box,” she said. “These people can add life to the community, and residents have life experience and wisdom to impart.”

Right now, Ramsey is excited that the first participant has moved in. “John is doing great! He describes life in the retirement community as ‘way better’ than the group home,” she said. “He  has more freedom to come and go as he chooses. His job in the dining room is going well, and he has his own section now, so he is proud of that! He’s enjoying playing Bingo and cards, and the residents are teaching him new games.”

Has your community found unique solutions to occupancy challenges? Let me know at DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

Even after three days in the steamy summer heat, my excitement about everything I learned at the LeadingAge Tennessee 2019 Annual Meeting & EXPO is just beginning to heat up. The theme was: “What if we helped people find passion and purpose?” The individuals I connected with at the show are doing that in amazing ways. They’re bringing generations together, leveraging strategies from other industries and approaching their challenges with a fresh perspective.

Without further ado, I’m excited to report back to you my top five “what-ifs” at the show:

1. What if we could integrate former foster youth into senior living communities?

While I was walking the floor, I spoke with Rosemary Ramsey, founder of The Victory Lap, an organization committed to matching youth, 18 to 21, who have aged out of the foster program, with open apartments at senior living communities. The community would be paid $900 per month (funded by the foster program in Tennessee) and would be asked to provide a job for the individual (at least 10 hours per week). The program is intended to give former foster kids a boost — with stable housing, employment opportunities and support from caring older adults — while meeting workforce challenges, filling otherwise vacant units and fostering intergenerational friendships. Look for an interview with Rosemary in a future blog post!

2. What if we could bring the principles of doula care to hospice?

A session on creating a doula program for hospice created some serious conference buzz. The program follows the principles of birthing doulas to help guide the individual and family/loved ones through the dying process.

3. What if we could find and retain top talent?

One of my favorite sessions, led by Matt Thornhill, stressed the need for transparency and inclusion when hiring. It was all about finding and retaining top talent. One example Matt referenced was the innovative 30/40 program by LifeSpire of Virginia in which certified nursing assistants are paid for 40 hours but are only required to work 30.

4. What if new residents could feel at home more easily?

I heard several people talking about a unique continuum concierge program discussed by Melissa Ward, vice president of clinical & regulatory affairs at Functional Pathways. The program promotes successful transitions and helps people stay in their current levels of care. Its tools include new resident orientations, resident-driven support groups, physician services, collaboration across the care continuum and more. Stay tuned for a future blog post about this innovative program.

5. What if we looked beyond a prospect’s age and income?

Last but not least, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention our session with co-presenter Robbie Voloshin of United Methodist Communities (UMC). Robbie celebrated her birthday that day! The talk covered an in-depth research study on which we had partnered with UMC. In short, the study shows how going beyond superficial demographics to interests and values can help organizations connect more deeply with the right prospects. Discussion centered around the core aspects of the study — the values statements and how they were ranked.

Have you had any what-if moments of your own? If so, drop me an email at DDunham@VarsityBranding.com. I’d love to hear about them.

At Varsity, we take every opportunity to get into the mind of the mature market, so we thought, “What could be better than using the social media phenomenon, FaceApp, on one of our own, James Schorn, resource manager at Varsity?” I decided to capture a few of James’s reactions to seeing himself aged several decades.

Q. Did seeing yourself aging change your perceptions about growing older?

A. It was refreshing to see myself aging like fine wine, as opposed to aging like milk…All kidding aside, I did feel that my spirit remained resilient, and that confirmed the many experiences I’ve had with older people ever since my first job working in the dining room of a retirement community. I think what I have always enjoyed about the mature market is seeing how happy and active this generation is. I love hearing about their life experiences. Sometimes it seems as if the world classifies our older generations as weak and fragile. Based on my experiences, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Nothing is more inspiring than a couple that has been married for 50+ years and still loves each other, day in and day out.

Q. What are your responsibilities at Varsity?

A. I’m in charge of quotes, scheduling and planning of projects. Through my career, I have overseen hundreds of projects of all different scopes. This has allowed me to use knowledge from past initiatives to ensure that our future projects run efficiently while giving our clients the best possible return.

Q. Are there any myths that still need to be debunked about aging, and the senior living industry specifically?

A. The overall perception of senior living needs to change. From my visits to communities, I have seen personally that they are built on friendship, trust and care. From residents to staff members, everyone looks out for one another. This generation is made up of strong individuals, and they should be respected for their impact on this world.

 

I’ve traveled all over the country to attend senior living conferences. Last week, I had one of my  favorite event experiences. It was just three minutes from my home in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

At most conferences, the locations change, but the same pain points keep coming up. Issues include staffing headaches, leadership transitions and ever-changing regulations. However, at the recent 2019 LeadingAge PA Annual Conference & EXPO, themed “Own Your Future,” speakers raised some new and different questions. These questions could dramatically impact the future of aging services. In case you weren’t able to attend, I wanted to share them with you.

  1. Are smart speakers in communities breaking the law?

That’s one question you may not be able to ask Siri or Alexa. Even so, every community should be seriously considering it. As more and more providers (and more and more residents) plug in to voice assistant technology, the more potential legal and regulatory conflicts they face. For instance, allowing a resident to be audio-recorded without consent (which smart speakers do) violates both HIPAA and state wiretapping acts. Is smart technology always such a smart idea? In this fascinating presentation, Larry Zook and Cynthia Haines made the case for putting strong policies in place to deal with this new technology. 

  1. Why do for-profit developments move so much faster than nonprofits?

For-profit senior communities can be built in 12–18 months, while nonprofits often take 3–5 years. What accounts for the faster speed to market? In a peek inside the for-profit world, Maura Richards of Wohlsen Construction and Jamie Spencer of SilverBloom Consulting broke down the reasons.  They included vetting based on market feasibility, no need for pre-sales, a focus on rentals and availability of equity. Can nonprofits find ways to speed up their own development process?

  1. How can we extend housing solutions to the middle market?

As a field, we have options for people with significant resources. We also have housing  for people with extremely limited resources. But those in the middle? They’re often left without good choices. Research specialist Sara Marcq, banking professional Lynn Daly and architect Craig Kimmel discussed new models coming to market — including some for-profit rentals — to fill these unmet needs.

No, I didn’t take three flights to attend LeadingAge PA or visit an exotic locale. After the show, I got in my car, made two lefts and a right and arrived in my own driveway. This shows that a conference really isn’t about a place but about people. It’s people coming together to share their knowledge, in the hopes of improving life for older adults.

 

 

 

Two very different leaders have just reached the halfway point of their journey in the LeadingAge PA Fellows in Leadership program. For all those who aren’t able to attend, we wanted to share ten unexpected things they’ve learned about leadership along the way.

Brian Mailliard is the CFO at St. Paul’s. Sakkara El is the Director of Personal Care at Masonic Villages. As they hit the halfway mark of their journey, here are 10 invaluable insights Sakkara and Brian have gained about leadership so far:

  1. Shake up your thinking. “I came into the program with my own ideas on leadership, much of which was inculcated during my youth,” said Sakkara. “Now I realize that there’s so much more to it. My overall thinking has expanded.”
  2. Be aware of your impact on others. “The program is teaching me to be more aware of myself, and how my actions and reactions can have an impact on those I’m tasked with leading,” Brian said.
  3. You don’t have to have all the answers. Brian has been amazed by the sheer volume of leadership information that is out there. “It’s not always about knowing all the answers,” he said, “but having resources to reach out to and learn from other individuals that are experiencing similar situations.”
  4. Praise your team. All of the Fellows underwent a DISC profile, a test that assesses personality styles. “It was eye opening reading page after page about my leadership style,”  Sakkara said. She has made a conscious effort to implement some of the leadership suggestions that came from the profiles, such as praising the team she directly manages more often.
  5. Be an advocate. The Fellows visited the Capitol Building in Harrisburg to gain a deeper understanding of the importance of advocacy, including interacting with government officials and their office staff.
  6. Execution is key. Sakkara found one presentation on the work of leaders enlightening. “The lecturer explained the importance of crafting a vision, building alignment and championing execution,” she said.
  7. Look outside yourself. Both Sakkara and Brian were inspired by a visit to  Messiah Lifeways in Mechanicsburg. The community is very innovative and 100% resident focused,” Sakkara said.
  8. Look inside yourself. “”It has been an introspective journey in terms of continuing to learn, grow and evolve in my leadership style,” Brian said.
  9. Build relationships. Current fellows, past fellows and LeadingAge PA staff attended a mixer at the LeadingAge PA offices. “Meeting new people you can learn something from is always a plus,” Brian said.
  10. Don’t wait to be a better leader. What would Brian tell people who are thinking about participating in Fellows in Leadership? “The sooner you can do it, the better.”

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One major myth about older adults and technology is that they don’t use it because they don’t understand it. But that idea is as outdated as a flip phone. From social media to online banking, older Americans are adopting tech at the speed of light.

Recent findings by the Link-Age Connect 2019 Technology Survey of Older Adults Age 55-100, also featured in Senior Housing Forum, bear that out. Smartphone use in particular has been skyrocketing. Among people ages 70-74, it shot up from 54 percent to 81 percent. That’s in just the past three years.

Unexpected  Choices

What’s even more surprising than the speed at which older adults are adopting new technologies? The reasons why some are unplugging from tech completely. Or at least using it less. Seniors often make this change, not because they’re confused about technology, but because they’re making a conscious choice to live offline. Here are some of their very smart reasons:

    1. Older adults prefer human connection. As smartphone penetration spikes ever higher in people of all ages, we’re all on our phones, all the time. Even when we get together, we’re logging on to check social media or our daily step count instead of talking to one another. Older Americans have the wisdom of knowing that time on this earth  is precious. It’s important to spend it with family and friends instead of glued to a device. One quote from the study proves the point. “I think technology is taking over people’s lives and it takes away from relationships with people.” – Female, age 95-99.
    2. They’re simplifying their lives. Older adults often have a desire for minimalism that goes hand in hand with human connection. The survey states, “As people age, they simplify their lives, allowing more time for personal interaction and less time for things that ‘busy’ them or take them away from time with family and friends.” Another quote adds,“It isn’t necessarily about teaching older adults to use a technology. It very well could be that they have used it and walked away from it because they do not want it in their lives any longer.”
    3. They’re watching their budget. Those on a fixed income struggle to pay for technology. For instance, only 25% of affordable housing residents have in-home WiFi , compared to 90% of the greater population. Even when older adults can afford to spend more, they follow the principle: “If it works, don’t fix it.”  Sure, marketing campaigns are persuading other generations that they need to spend hundreds on the latest Smartphone. But older Americans often aren’t interested in updating just to get the latest bells and whistles. If it’s a “want” instead of a true need, they’ll keep the device that still works just fine.

 Personality Trumps Age 

The study also found that technology adoption relates more to personality than age. Comments from two different survey participants underscore that point: “I L-O-V-E technology.” – Female, age 84. “I prefer to use it when I want to and not be run by it or tied to it.” – Female, age 95-99. At Varsity, we’ve expressed our opinions before about not lumping everyone 65+ into one category. This new research has driven home, once again, that people of ages need to be seen as individuals — when it comes to technology or anything else.

This past week, I attended the LeadingAge Colorado 2019 Annual Conference and Exhibition in Vail, Colorado. One of my most profound experiences there was hearing a presentation by keynote speaker Jonathan Fanning. In his speech, Fanning challenged us to “happen to the world.” Our speaker’s assumption was that too many of us don’t happen to the world.  Instead, the world happens to us.

To me, his message had personal meaning. You see, in our business, we often allow life to simply happen to us. This is true not only at work, but too often in our personal lives as well. When we allow life to just happen to us, we usually find ourselves in a place where we feel less in control of circumstances. Perhaps, we even feel  victimized by life’s events.

My Early Travels
Fanning’s talk brought me back to a time early in my career, when I had begun traveling for work. Throughout my career, I’ve continued to have many opportunities to travel across the country and the world. (That’s why my agency, Varsity, ended up creating Flat Wayne,  my alter ego, an intrepid traveler who shows up in cities all over and is always the life of the party.)

Today, I’m as gregarious as “Flat Wayne,” but early on, I would spend most nights huddled around my paperwork within the four walls of the hotel. My work was always the most important task for the evenings, along with a lonely dinner.

Thinking Differently
One of my mentors challenged me to think differently about my travel. He tasked me with doing two things: One was to always find something unique about the area I was visiting and to go see that place or event. The other challenge was to never dine alone. Although a bit more difficult, the effort to always find a dinner guest, regardless of the time zone, allowed me to make life happen.

These small changes in my travel habits have helped me foster more meaningful relationships. That  brought me greater work-life balance over time. I now have a greater sense of so many local cultures, and stay in learning mode.

Making Life Happen
Most of us spend so much of our day with activities centered around work. When I learned how to make life happen through intentionally engaging with the people and environments around me, good things happened. I found fulfillment in relationships and learned so much more about the world. Life had more meaning and purpose. I now look forward with anticipation to opportunities to learn during my travels. More importantly, I  connect with people and break bread together. No longer does life just happen. I make it happen.

As leaders in our category, what are we doing daily and weekly to “happen” to our world? What’s our purpose in life? Why are we here? Who matters to us and why?

Finding Meaning 
Wrestling with the above questions, though challenging, can reveal answers that raise incredible considerations for each of us. We can work to promote meaning for our life and for others. Having a clearer understanding of our answers helps us act with more intention. We can control more of what goes on in our lives and how we create opportunity for meaning  purpose for those who’ve entrusted us with their well-being.

 

 

I thought I was just flying into Fort Worth, Texas, for another sales conference. Instead, attending the 2019 Greystone Sales Adventure from May 1 to 3 was a life-changing experience that challenged me to look not only at my role in sales, but my whole approach to aging services.

The first tip-off that this wasn’t sales as usual was the conference theme: “Get Down in Funkytown.” It reflected a collective commitment by these senior living sales professionals to get down and be rebellious as they seek to reach consumers who demand more control of their next phase of life. Oh, and it offered lots of opportunities for the participants to get their funk on.

The next clue was the keynote speaker, Lois Kelly, co-author of  Rebels at Work and co-founder of an organization of the same name. The essence of Kelly’s book and the organization she represents is a call for us to push all layers of the organization — regardless of respective role or place of authority — to take responsibility for driving improvement, change and innovation.

Lois challenged us as sales professionals to assume a leadership role in driving change across our organizations. In thinking about the undertaking Lois tasked us with, I’ll be lending ongoing attention to the following questions in collaboration with our clients:

  1. What are we doing as partners to make the status quo unappealing?
  2. How are we helping our teams become more agile and flexible?
  3. To what degree are we maintaining our curiosity? What did we learn today?
  4. Who did we listen to today, and what was their message to us?
  5. Why does the world need us?

One final takeaway: Lois summed up her message to the group by pushing each of us to change the soul of the place in which we work. The challenge is monumental, but the talented group of sales professionals is serious about transforming the field in an effort to serve those yet to be served.

 

 

 

Earlier this week, my entire world was disrupted. I flew to Pittsburgh for the Facing Disruption, Forging Direction conference, hosted by the Presbyterian Association of Homes and Services for the Aging (PAHSA). I participated in discussions about the major disruptors facing our field and came away viewing disruption as a positive force to be embraced. As I look back on the event, I can identify five major disruptions — and new directions that can transform them into opportunities. I wanted to share them with all of you who may not have been able to attend the conference. 

1. Disruption: tighter margins, leaner budgets
Many communities and systems are considering strategies to combat the changing needs of the mature market and increasing competition. This is evident in how communities are repositioning, contract types are changing and affiliations are continuing to develop.

Direction: Collaboration can boost financial strength. At the conference, Presbyterian Senior Living and Westminster Communities of Florida announced their intention to affiliate. Together, they will be the fifth-largest senior living organization in the country.

2. Disruption: a rapidly growing middle market
Forty-five percent of Boomers have no savings toward retirement, which means that most will not be able to afford the typical senior living community.*

 Direction: HumanGood is taking what it’s learned through its affordable housing communities to provide an innovative service to the middle market. We learned about how the brand developed Plaza Roberto Maestas in Seattle, incorporating street art that reflects the local neighborhood; a day care center for neighborhood children; local retail on the first level; and a plaza in the center of the complex that draws a variety of food trucks each day, attracting visitors from the greater community.

3. Disruption: a skyrocketing incidence of dementia
Caregivers already provide 18.5 billion hours of care per year at a cost of $234 billion, and the number of people with Alzheimer’s will more than double by 2050.**

Direction: Presbyterian SeniorCare in the Pittsburgh market has launched its Dementia360 program, which in the words of the organization “pioneers partnerships and collaborations.” The organization has developed a Dementia Care Center of Excellence, with educational programs, residential services, research and population health initiatives. This, along with its comprehensive care management expertise, provided the resources necessary to launch Dementia360, which is a series of tools to support both the caregiver and the person living with dementia.

4. Disruption: a dearth of qualified staff in senior living
The number of 16–24-year-olds in the workforce is expected to decline by 2.8 million between 2014 and 2024, which means that senior living communities could face major labor shortages.***

Direction: Presbyterian SeniorCare and Redstone, both of Pittsburgh,  shared two different models to bring youth in through education, volunteerism and internships. These types of programs introduce high school students to the benefits of a career in senior living, expanding the potential workforce at a grassroots level.

5. Disruption: unique partnerships providing exponential value

Direction: Twin Cities-based Presbyterian Homes & Services is pioneering relationships with payers and primary care/navigation to create a unique model to contain costs and — more importantly — provide the best-quality care to its residents.

I genuinely enjoyed my time at the conference and salute the leaders who came together to openly share their solutions for a common cause. And every day, every session was guided by this passage from Scripture:

“For surely I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord, “plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11

I encourage everyone to address disruption head on by taking new directions that will move our field forward.

 

*Insured Retirement Institute
**Alzheimer’s Foundation
***Argentum Senior Living Workforce Trends 2018

The first session of LeadingAge PA’s 2019 Fellows in Leadership program was a huge success. I caught up with coach Diane Burfeindt, vice president of population health and housing at Presbyterian Senior Living, and participant Brian Mailliard, chief financial officer of St. Paul’s, to talk about the kickoff of the year-long program, hosted at SpiriTrust Lutheran’s The Village at Sprenkle Drive in York, Pennsylvania. “The other coaches and I were just amazed at how quickly the group came together — there was a really good energy,” said Diane. Brian agreed. The program was “even better than I anticipated it would be,” he said. Diane and Brian provided some top-level takeaways about what they’ve learned so far:

1. Leaders aren’t born; they’re taught. One surprising course insight debunked the myth of a natural leader. “We learned that anyone has the ability to be a leader, but not everybody is taught to be a leader,” Brian said.

2. The right decision may not always be the popular one. One of the challenges Brian has shared with the group is the realization that making necessary decisions for the health of the organization, may not be viewed as positive by everyone. “I want to be the likable person, and sometimes decisions need to be made that aren’t popular,” he said. Advice from the group: It’s okay if people disagree with you. And you’re not alone — most leaders deal with this issue.

3. It’s essential to see trends in action. The group toured the new assisted living neighborhood at The Village at Sprenkle Drive and heard about trends from Steven Jeffrey, chief strategy and innovation officer at Garden Spot Village, home of a five-apartment co-housing residence, just one of their innovations in senior living.

4. Titles don’t matter. The people in Diane’s small learning group work in a variety of areas, from finance to personal care to operations and strategic initiatives. “I think you can tell we didn’t talk about titles,” Diane said. “Regardless of experience or level or age, we learned a lot from each individual. It’s the diversity of thought and perspective in the learning circle that makes it so valuable.”

5. Other leaders face the same challenges you do. “It was reassuring to learn that the issues I’m dealing with on a daily basis aren’t limited to myself or my community,” said Brian. “Other people are going through the same things I am.”

6. Leading takes even more work than you’d imagine. Of course, leaders put a lot of effort into their jobs, but it’s essential to carve out time to focus on leadership development. “When I left the first session, what I was thinking to myself is how much study, time and thought people put into being a leader,” Brian said. “It’s something that you work at.”

Both Diane and Brian are looking forward to reuniting with their small group. “I’ve always found Fellows in Leadership to be a very personal journey,” said Diane. Brian seconded this sentiment. “I never slowed down before to think this way or contemplate leading in this way,” he said, “but I’m very glad to get the opportunity.”

Between sessions, the participants will be meeting virtually, getting advice on issues that arise at their communities and working on individual learning projects. “It’s always interesting to see how the group evolves through the year,” said Diane. Stay tuned for the highlights of the next session of 2019 Fellows in Leadership, taking place in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, May 15–18.

Today, Arielle Shapiro, the owner, operator and lead art consultant at Silver Cat Design, a corporate art consultation and interior décor company in Denver, CO, shares her insights into the importance of art in senior living design.

Rob: What is an art consultant?

Arielle: An art consultant is an art-minded professional who assists in the vision for art selection and other art-related projects. My branch of art consultation is primarily focused on senior living and corporate art selection — I advise where art should be hung, choose the artwork, have it framed and oversee the final installation. I purchase artwork from showrooms and online sources, as well as independent artists. I am a fine artist myself, so sometimes I choose to create a piece for a project.

Rob: Why is art important to a senior living community?

Arielle: Art is an enormously enriching and important element in day-to-day community life, especially when it comes to an environment like senior living. These communities are most often seniors’ forever homes, where the residents spend all of their time. Having a thoughtfully chosen, inspiring collection of art will vastly improve their lives. Art inspires personal connections, sparks conversation, stimulates memory recall and brings overall joy and beauty into communities, benefiting both residents and team members.

Rob: What are some of the design trends you are seeing in senior living communities?

Arielle: Paisley, checkers and “Grandma’s house” decor is a thing of the past. Current-day senior living design is incredibly modern, chic and unique, comparable to a luxury hotel. Interior design for these communities is forward-thinking, revolves around community focal points like the dining and lounge areas and caters to Baby Boomers — those who were on the forefront of technology, abstract art, cultural dining and aging independently without the assistance of younger generations. New senior living is sculpted to fit these active seniors’ lifestyles in many facets, from exercise rooms to hobby shops to pubs with beers on tap. Senior living is shifting as far away from the old “retirement home” aesthetic as possible.

Rob: Do you have any research you can share about the benefits of art for older adults?

Arielle: Absolutely! Evidence-based design proves that art and color play an integral role in brain function, especially for the very young (infants) and elderly, like those who experience cognitive slowdowns or issues like Alzheimer’s disease.

Rob: How can art impact memory-impaired residents?

Arielle: Color theory and evidence-based design prove that certain patterns, colors and images can stimulate a plethora of positive thoughts, emotions and sometimes memories. Cool colors, like soft blues, greens and earth tones, can help a memory-impaired resident to feel calm, while soft pinks and oranges can stimulate happy or energized feelings. An image of a 1955 Jaguar car, for example, could help a resident recall a memory of once seeing that car in his or her neighbor’s driveway. An image of a poppy field in spring may bring a resident a sensation of serenity or joy. Selecting artwork for memory care is a very involved, special and fragile practice that requires an extraordinary level of care and consideration.

Rob: Can you give me a few examples of the types of senior living projects you have worked on recently?

Arielle: My most recent project is a luxury senior living community located in the Tech Center area of Denver, Colorado, called The Carillon at Belleview Station. I selected and placed over 350 pieces of art for this community. Village at Belmar in Lakewood, Colorado, is a project I will be forever proud of: one of my first large communities, where I placed art and accessories and furnished several model units. I also recently installed four incredibly chic model units at Pine Grove Crossing, a senior living community based in Parker, Colorado.

Rob: How can our readers find out more about Silver Cat Design?

Arielle:  I would encourage them to visit the Silver Cat Design website or engage with me on LinkedIn.

 

 

LeadingAge PA’s Fellows in Leadership program is a one-year, four-session program that focuses on effective leadership practices. Participants will gain the skills and confidence to enact true change to impact their real-life challenges.

At Varsity, we’ll be following coaches and participants as they make their way through the program. I kicked things off by talking to Diane Burfeindt, Vice President of Population Health and Housing at Presbyterian Senior Living, who is starting her third year as a Fellows in Leadership coach.

Derek: Thank you for talking to us. What motivated you to become a coach?
Diane: I was a 2012 graduate of the Larry Minnix Leadership Academy at LeadingAge and that was a life-changing experience — both personally and professionally. As LeadingAge PA started to evolve its program, I wanted to bring that experience to more people.

Derek: What kinds of experiences will the group share?
Diane: Sessions are each two or three days in different parts of the state. The participants will interact with experienced leaders from the aging services community and develop a network of colleagues. During each session, we tour a host community that’s part of LeadingAge PA. It’s really nice to get out and do that because a lot of people have not seen communities other than their own.

Derek: How is this program different from traditional leadership training?
Diane: It makes the experience personal to you. You’re not just sitting in a classroom and learning; you’re talking with others. A lot of us don’t get a chance to sit back and reflect on our challenges, to talk with people about how we might apply lessons to leadership issues we’re experiencing. It’s an incredibly valuable experience.

Derek: Who will facilitate the program:
Diane: MHS Consulting in conjunction with LeadingAge PA staff, are facilitating the program, and have included learning from leaders within our field that can offer very hands-on, personal insights.

Derek: What role do coaches like yourself play?
Diane: We will each have a small team of five or six, and we will stay with that team the whole year — helping connect what the Fellows are learning in the program with their actual work and leadership

Derek: Are participants from all areas and levels of leadership?
Diane: Absolutely: new leaders, seasoned leaders, middle-level leaders. Just in our last class, there were people from accounting, dietary, administration, activities, housing, nursing, home care — you name it.

Derek: How has the program strengthened your own leadership skills?
Diane: There’s so much I learned during the program and afterwards. I turned the corner on my leadership skills. Utilizing the alumni network since I graduated has been a total game-changer. The position I’m in now is a direct result of going through the program.

Derek: Why did it make such a difference?
Diane: Before the program, I thought that I needed to have everything figured out, that my job was to have a plan and implement it through leadership. I have since learned how many opportunities come my way when I know what I want to accomplish but leave the path open as to how I accomplish it. I allow more people in and follow up on opportunities that come to me. That is exponentially better than having it all figured out beforehand.

Derek: Does this program actually teach people to lead?
Diane: It doesn’t teach you how to lead step by step; it is more about learning what it means to be a leader. You might have had blinders on in the past as to what you thought was leadership and how you were leading. You realize that everyone is going through the struggle of finding the best way to lead — it’s a very personal time.

Derek: Does Fellows in Leadership confirm peoples’ desire to work in the senior living field?
Diane: Without a doubt! I’ve had so many people say that this program really reaffirmed their commitment to senior living — a lot of that is because they got the opportunity to meet with other people in the field and feel connected to them.

The first session of Fellows in Leadership will kick off on March 26. We’ll be following the program’s progress on the Varsity blog.

 

 

 

 

 

Eaton Senior Communities is home to 164 residents and, occasionally, a breakthrough, socially assistive robot called Ryan — created at the University of Denver — which could soon be available to the general public. In a series of posts, I’m talking to people involved in this fascinating project and getting their perspectives on how this lifelike “companionbot” is helping older adults who are living with depression and dementia.

Today, I’m speaking with Sarah Schoeder, wellness director at Eaton Senior Communities, who is a liaison between the residents and the team of scientists developing Ryan. Sarah has been serving the geriatric community for 38 years, including 20 years as an LPN in a skilled nursing facility.

 

Wayne: Sarah, what was it like trying to get residents to participate in the robot pilot studies?

Sarah: I would visit them and drop this idea in their lap, and they’d look at me like I was crazy. I’ve approached a lot of residents whom I didn’t expect to get involved — some of them in their 90s. To see them go from giving me a look like, “You’re kidding me” to becoming excited, looking forward to the sessions and wanting to be involved in the next set of trials, it’s been amazing.

 

Wayne: Did the residents have input about the changes in the robot?

Sarah: Yes, residents would give feedback about what they’d like the robot to look like and sound like — what they’d like it to say. Then, the team would make changes.

 

Wayne: How has the robot changed over time?

Sarah: Ryan’s facial features appear more natural, and the improvement in the movement of her head has given her a “softer touch.” Her smile is beautiful, and she makes me want to smile back!

 

Wayne: Were you concerned that residents might not want to finish the project?

Sarah: Yes, but all residents in both trials of 2018 completed all sessions, which spoke highly of the project goals. Some residents were hesitant and perhaps a little fearful, but after spending time with Ryan, their attitudes completely changed. Ryan has touched the lives of Eaton residents by providing unconditional companionship and interest in their lives. The improvement in mood and cognition was apparent as residents were exposed to educational opportunities and stimulating interactions.

 

Wayne: Does Ryan have a sense of humor?

Sarah: Yes! I’ll give you an example. One resident who was hosting Ryan in her room was walking down the hall, and she said to me, “Can you believe what that crazy thing just said to me?” She went on to say that she and Ryan were talking about how the Denver Broncos were competing against the Patriots in the Super Bowl, and Ryan announced that she was a Patriots fan — in the heart of Bronco country!

 

Wayne: How will this new technology help people age in place?

Sarah: One of the biggest reasons people move into assisted living is that they can’t manage their medicines. If Ryan reminds me to take my medicine, that might be the defining moment that keeps me home.

 

Wayne: How has this experience changed your views on robotics?

Sarah: If someone told me five years ago that I’d be sitting here telling you robots could be valued members of a health care team — that I’d be endorsing them as part of the health care model — I would not have believed it, but I’ve learned that the robot is not replacing me as a nurse and caregiver. It’s just empowering me to be more successful in senior living.

 

Sarah will share stories about resident interactions with Ryan in next week’s blog. 

Eaton Senior Communities is home to 164 residents and, occasionally, a socially assistive robot called Ryan, now being developed at the University of Denver. In a series of posts, I’m talking to people involved in this fascinating project and getting their perspectives on how this lifelike “companionbot” may transform the lives of seniors living with depression and dementia.

Today, I’m talking to Diana Delgado, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Eaton Senior Communities.

 

Wayne: How did the robot pilot study come about?

Diana: Back in 2014, we received an inquiry through our Contact Us page. It came from the assistant of Mohammad Mahoor, PhD, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Denver, reaching out to senior housing communities to see if any would be interested in a pilot project for companion robots for the elderly. We were the only senior living community that responded to his request, and in the beginning, Eaton was the sole pilot project site.

 

Wayne: Why do you think you were the only community to respond?

Diana: I know that, at most communities, we all get bombarded with spam emails. You tend to just hit the delete button. Our community is good at reading emails, and we thought, “Should we at least explore it a little?” When we heard more about it, we thought it was a very innovative idea and that our residents would be interested in it — and they are!

 

Wayne: What surprised you about the residents’ reaction to the project?

Diana: We didn’t expect people to bond with the robot, but they did. Our residents were not only excited to be part of creating this whole project, but they expressed that they missed the robot when it was removed. That just goes to show how open-minded people of any age can be when embracing new technology.

 

Wayne: Was Ryan the same for each resident?

Diane: No. What was nice is that the team customized the robot to the resident. Family pictures and favorite movies were uploaded that they could watch on a screen on the robot’s torso. One resident liked cooking shows, so they were included in her case. Ryan could give reminders to take medications, play games, make conversation; she was truly a companion. The residents could also name the robot whatever they wanted, and it was unisex, so they could make it a male or a female. One man named it after his wife, Annie. Another woman named hers “Isabelle.” One woman wanted it to be a man, whom she called “Jasper,” because she said women were too hard to live with. Each of them got to add little personal touches, like a scarf or a hat. They felt like the robot was a friend.

 

Wayne: How does Ryan help people with memory issues?

Diana: If residents have short-term memory issues and forget that they’ve said something, Ryan can remind them that they’ve already said that — it’s a way to propel the conversation forward so they don’t get fixated on that one question.

 

Wayne: How can Ryan help caregivers?

Diana: Ryan can give caregivers time to take care of their own needs. We’ve had one instance with a sister of a resident who felt that she could take an extra hour to do her errands and not feel so guilty because she’s seen the positive impact that Ryan has been making in her brother’s life.

 

Wayne: From your perspective, what was the value in having the robots at Eaton?

Diana: The team listened to what residents had to say and improved robot interactions based on that. Residents gave input about some of the facial expressions, the hair, the voice. They see real value in being heard and being listened to — they love that they’re contributing to the future of robotics.

 

Wayne: What qualities does a community need in order to take part in projects

like these?

Diana: It has to be able to embrace some innovative ideas. I guess I would say I attribute our participation to a culture of curiosity.

Stay tuned for more posts about Ryan, the companionbot. 

 

 

Now that the holidays are over, my resolution to spend less money on gifts next year is in full swing. It’s not surprising that  a recent survey tells us that shoppers spent more than $850 million — a 5.1 percent increase in holiday spending from 2017. One of the most-talked-about best sellers was the smart speaker: For the third straight year, Amazon’s best-selling product was the affordable Echo Dot. Interestingly, several commercials depicted Boomer and senior parents using smart speakers to connect with their children and grandchildren — like this spot about a grandmother connecting with her family, and this one, featuring a daughter interacting with her dad as she cooks.

When it came time to buy my Boomer mom a gift, I fell for the marketing hype myself. I know Mom loves listening to music in the kitchen, and seeing her old-school boom box made me think it was time for an upgrade. I got her the Amazon Echo Dot, influenced by the commercials that made using it seem so easy. Although my mother is quite averse to technology, I had a hunch she’d be comfortable with the Dot. I was right. Once I got her set up with it, she loved it. “It’s so easy to use — you just talk to it!” Mom said.

I caught up with Mom again after the holidays to see if her experience was still going well and asked her how she was using the gift. “Right now, just for music,” she said. (Mom likes to listen to country songs while she’s cooking.) “But sometimes I ask Alexa what the weather is.”

“What do you like best about the Dot?” I asked. “The ease of using it,” my mom said. “It’s hands-free. I can change volume, change music, easily. I don’t have to yell. I just talk, and she listens.”

One of my co-workers’ parents also got a smart speaker system for Christmas. Her report? Her parents like having it play music but don’t see it playing a large role in their lives. “My dad may ask about the weather, but he still goes into the kitchen to watch the weather on TV,” my co-worker said. “He’s not going to say ‘turn on the lights.’ He’s going to flip a switch.”

My mom is a little more adventurous. Although she’s sticking to music and weather for now, she said that she’s interested in using the Echo Dot for other home tasks as well. “If I had the hook up, I would use it to work lighting for more efficiency,” she told me. “I’d also like to use it to put the garage door up and down.”

I’m glad that my mom’s getting comfortable with voice assistance now — in case she needs more help later to make her life easier and safer, whether that means turning on lights in the middle of the night or saying, “Call 911” to summon help in an emergency.

According to this recent survey of industry leaders, the trend to voice will move forward faster than we can imagine. If, in turn, that can give older adults more of a voice in their lives, I think that’s a good thing.

 

 

 

As we head into 2019, we look back on an exciting year for the Varsity blog! Here’s a countdown of our most popular posts for 2018. It’s a potpourri of topics, from serious to humorous to touching. One common thread: innovative ways of helping people age well, from a world-renowned village for people experiencing dementia to LEGOs.

  1. Older Adults Experiencing Homelessness Inspired by an experience our president Wayne Langley had passing an underpass in Los Angeles, this three-part series provides insights into how older individuals experiencing homelessness are treated. Read the first installment here.
  1. Difficulties in Diagnosing Parkinson’s Disease  In this guest post, Rebecca Evans of geriatric nursing.org discusses the second most common age-related disease after Alzheimer’s, including the lack of a precise screening test and why early diagnosis is so important. Read it here.
  1. Remembering Sal J. Molite, Jr.  Derek Dunham, vice president of client services at Varsity, pays his respects to Sal J. Molite, Jr., former president of Edenwald Communities in Towson, Maryland, who sadly passed away in January 2018. He was a true friend and colleague, who had a passion and dedication for the aging services. Read the post.
  1. American Hogeweyk — an Interview with UMC’s Larry Carlson Varsity spoke with Larry Carlson, President and CEO of United Methodist Communities, on his fascinating experience visiting Hogeweyk, the world-famous memory support community in The Netherlands. Read the post.
  1. Playing with LEGOs Could Help Older Adults Our most-read post of the year came from Robinson Smith, Varsity creative director and lover of all toys and games. Rob discusses Adult Fans of Legos (AFOLS), many of whom are older adults who use Legos to engage in a creative exercise for the mind. Read the post.

That’s our countdown of top posts for 2018! Stay tuned for more fresh perspectives in 2019, and please contact us  if there’s a topic or issue you’d like us to cover.

 

Once in awhile at Varsity, we view current entertainment through the filter of aging services marketing. This past weekend, I binged out on “The Kominsky Method,” a trending Netflix series starring Michael Douglas as Sandy Kominsky, a former Hollywood A-lister turned acting coach, and Alan Arkin as Sandy’s longtime agent and best friend Norman Newlander. Produced by sitcom sultan Chuck Lorre (“Two and a Half Men”), the show also features a star-studded cast, including regulars Danny DeVito, Nancy Travis and Lisa Edelstein, with guest appearances by Jay Leno, Ann-Margret and Patti Labelle.

The eight episodes I watched dealt with death, drug addiction, ageism and cancer and still managed to be laugh-out-loud funny — at least I thought so.

One reviewer wasn’t so enamored of the show. He thought the jokes were tired and that there was too much focus on peeing habits. Sandy’s need for frequent urination, including watering the hedge in his date’s yard, dominates more than one episode.

The reviewer makes a valid point, although for me, the humor somehow works. The portrait of Michael Douglas’ character with an enlarged prostate is a refreshing contrast to the usual list of invincible aging male stars jumping from planes in action movies.

One mystery the show did clear up for me is why some men I know frequently pee in hedges and bushes, as well as behind large trucks in parking lots. I always thought it was a macho need to “mark your territory,” but it turns out that it’s just a male health condition that worsens with age.

During the hedge scene, I picked up the phone and called my Uncle Tony (who has been dealing with a slow-growing prostate cancer) and asked him to tune in and give his opinion. He binged through all eight episodes. My uncle’s favorite part? Sandy and his lack of steady flow had him laughing out loud.

Beyond the humor, Uncle Tony explained, it was great to see an important subject being given prominent attention. In a lighthearted way, the show drives home the point that even famous people aren’t immune to this health issue, which impacts 50 percent of men over 50 and 90 percent of men over 80 and can be associated with prostate cancer. Every time the great Sandy Kominsky makes another trip to the bathroom, it underscores the need for diagnosis and treatment of prostate conditions. Sandy’s reluctant visit to his urologist is funny, of course (imagine a white-coated Danny DeVito wielding the power of a rubber glove), but a more serious message clearly comes through: If you’re having symptoms, get checked.

Other serious themes are also cloaked in humor, including the ever-prevalent issue of ageism. One example: Norman’s assistant comments that it’s great for him to be back at his job running a talent agency after his wife’s death, comparing him to her grandpa, who keeps his mind active by doing the daily crossword.

In spite of the stereotypical perceptions of those around them, the older characters forge ahead as contributing, working members of society — even if they’re sometimes reduced from their former glory. (For instance, Elliott Gould, in a hilarious guest turn as an erstwhile movie icon, accepts a cheesy commercial hawking reverse mortgages.)

Whether you find the humor funny or not, “The Kominsky Method” definitely takes on some important issues. Is a season two renewal in its future? Stay tuned! In the meantime, you can learn more about prostate cancer detection and treatment by visiting the Prostate Cancer Foundation.

If you were to ask any senior living sales and marketing professional who their greatest competition is, you’ll probably get one answer pretty consistently – “their own home.”

Even from the surface level, it makes perfect sense. If a person is comfortable in the home that they are already living in, and perhaps own, why would they undertake a major move to a retirement community? Usually, the impetus for a move often isn’t a choice, but rather a need, such as health concerns, inability to keep up with regular maintenance, or rising taxes. When these “pain points” become too much to bear, a person may start to look at other options.

There is, however, a new trend surfacing in the aging services space that purports to help people in these situations. Savvy marketers are pivoting their products and services to appeal to individuals who would much rather stay at home than make the move. If these products and services can keep you in your own home longer, at a fraction of the cost, why wouldn’t you consider them? This tactic has become the new marketing sweet spot for a very specific subset of companies – home bathroom remodelers.

One of the biggest hurdles people face as they age is maintaining their lifestyle in a space built for a younger person. Where once the bathtub ridge was easily negotiable, now it is a tripping hazard. In your 30’s, you don’t care if a shower has a seat or a grab bar, but when you are in your 80’s, these are important additions. Also, as human beings, when we are feeling unwell, we gravitate to two rooms in particular – the bedroom and the bathroom. Bedrooms can be pretty easy to rearrange and refurnish since they are just an empty box with a closet until furniture is brought in. But, a bathroom is a different story.

A recent survey of 1,100 homeowners aged 55 and older found that more than half are in the midst of or are considering a bathroom remodeling project. Let that sink in for a minute. More than half of the key demographic for senior living marketers are taking steps to stay in their current home longer, rather than to look at other housing options. The average bathroom remodel costs around $7,000. Even without specific data, we can take an educated guess that someone who spends a significant amount of money in remodeling their home, with accessibility in mind, is far less likely to consider making a big move to a senior living campus.

Accessibility is the true goal in a majority of these remodels. Nearly half of those doing bathroom remodels (47%) are changing their bathroom layout entirely, and a third of all remodels results in the removal of the bathtub. 84% of remodels result in substantially upgraded features, such as showers and vanities. Oh, and these aren’t DIY renovations; 83% of people hire a professional contractor for their projects (although this number does appear to be shrinking.)

While all of these facts and figures are useful, what does it really mean to senior living marketing professionals? Of course, the home a person is already in remains our biggest competition. But, now is the time to start thinking outside of the box on your marketing messages. “Why spend thousands remodeling your bathroom when you can move into a brand new home today?” Targeting ads to Boomers who are considering renovations could be an interesting tactic that few people are considering. In this way, digital marketing could be especially fruitful, because you could present ads to people who are of the right age and who are looking for remodels. This might be your chance to change their mind and entice them to your community!

As you look towards 2019, and even beyond that, how are you going to adapt your marketing message to appeal to these kinds of Boomers? Those that figure it out will certainly end up winning in our space – and forging what senior living is going to look like for the next several decades.

 

Source

https://www.supplyht.com/articles/101739-baby-boomers-anticipate-aging-in-place-needs-in-bathroom-renovations

We’re willing to bet that, if you were to ask the residents of most retirement communities about their biggest disappointment at their community, it would probably boil down to one of two things: the communication or the food. Aging services providers have been working to get better at both of these challenges, but food continues to be a perennial gripe for residents. Interestingly, this challenge isn’t just being felt in the senior living space. Recognizing that Baby Boomers are in control of an incredible amount of expendable income, all kinds of foodservice providers are pivoting their models to appeal to America’s wealthiest generation.

This has caused some restaurant owners to start thinking like aging services groups by changing their culture and advertising to become more appealing to the aging Boomer set. They’ve quickly learned that “senior” discounts and references to age are turnoffs. Instead, they’ve caught on to key Boomer trends, such as healthy menu options, new takes on old favorites and interactive experiences, such as cooking classes and wine pairing dinners. In a recent article in Restaurant Business Magazine, it was reported that 44 percent of Boomers prefer a restaurant with a mix of both familiar and new foods. The article goes on to suggest pairing familiar proteins with more adventurous side dishes to create a happy medium.

Yet, for all of the adventurousness that some Boomers may be embracing, there is still one core belief of Boomer diners: the need for value. Sixty-three percent of Boomers say it is an important factor, with 55 percent saying that low prices are key. In the real world, this often manifests as the repeat customer with a consistent order. If Jack knows that he likes a specific dish, and he feels it is a good value for the price, he may settle into a rhythm of ordering it over and over again. Sure, the repeat business is great, but Jack isn’t likely to try anything new on the menu. This puts operators in a bind — do you change the menu up to attract new customers, or do you keep it the same to ensure repeat business? This usually boils down to a personal choice for the operators.

Within the senior living space, we see similar challenges as these. Some residents desire more variety in the meals offered, while others are unhappy that their favorite menu item has been taken out of rotation. Marketers that are looking to attract younger residents want to show off innovative, gourmet dining techniques; meanwhile, older residents just want their comfort food favorites on the menu. Culinary service employees in senior living find themselves stuck between this rock and a hard place, trying to create menus that are appealing to everyone, while still being innovative and flavorful — all within budget considerations. It’s a different challenge than most restauranteurs usually face!

In recognition of this challenge, a new association was recently formed. The Senior Dining Association (SDA) is the first organization focused specifically on serving older adults, both at public venues and in residential communities. Of course, every good association needs a conference and expo, so the SDA will be hosting its first-ever such event, March 17 to 20, in Charlotte, North Carolina. The event purports to bring together experts in senior dining and culinary experiences, with workshops, demonstrations, product innovations and, of course, lots of free samples!

Food is integral to daily life for residents of aging services providers. Foodservice teams are given a double challenge of not only keeping up with the trends of food in society, but also finding a way to adapt those trends to their residents and communities. At Varsity, we’re excited to see how the greater community is taking notice of the purchasing power of Boomers. In that same vein, we’re also looking forward to seeing what kind of impact a new professional organization will have on our space.

Either way, we know there will be tasty results!

Sources

https://www.masslive.com/entertainment/index.ssf/2018/11/restaurants_seek_to_appeal_to.html

https://pos.toasttab.com/blog/baby-boomers

https://seniordining.wildapricot.org/Conference

“The Cool Kids,” a new sitcom on FOX, stars an ensemble cast of characters residing at Shady Meadows Retirement Community. The official, published premise of the show is “Three guy friends in a retirement community are the top dogs until they’re blown out of the water by the newest member of the community, a female rebel who’s ready to challenge their place — it’s high school with 70 somethings.” As an aging services marketer, this show was sure to catch my eye. Recently, I sat down and binged the first several episodes, looking at it from not just an entertainment perspective, but also in light of my experiences with senior living.

The show’s cast includes some well-known comedic actors — David Alan Grier, Martin Mull, Leslie Jordan and Vicki Lawrence. Even the team members of the community are well-cast, including Artemis Pebdani as Allison, the community’s executive director, and Charlie Day as Chet, one of the maintenance technicians. This gave me high hopes for a funny, insightful show about life in a senior living community. After watching the first three episodes, I’m staying positive but am also mildly perturbed.

Let’s start with the positives. The program does have some pretty funny moments, showing just how unique and interesting life at a community can be. It does a good job of capturing some of the internal politics that occur when people live in such close proximity. Sure, there are some of the expected jokes, but if you look beyond the low-hanging fruit of easy laughs, the show has the potential to poke some good-hearted fun at the world of aging services. Unfortunately, the reliance on the easy laughs is where the writing takes a nosedive.

The first few episodes contain nearly every “old person” comedy trope in the books, up to and including the urn of a deceased friend falling, breaking and spreading ashes everywhere. There are many references to senior sexuality, making the male characters seem like lechers. Meanwhile, when Margaret shows signs of sexuality, she’s immediately shut down because of being “too old.” Of course, there are jokes about medications, aging in general and life in the community. I was especially disappointed in the portrayal of the community’s management as being iron-fisted and deaf to the needs of the residents. This isn’t the kind of portrayal aging services professionals need.

In the end, the show has some real potential, but the writing and direction of the early episodes rely too heavily on expected comedy. The characters aren’t shown as well-rounded people; rather, they’re given singular motivations that vary only a little with each episode. I could easily see how this show could become something special and unique, like “The Office” was for corporate America or “Parks & Recreation” was for public servants. But until the writers, directors and producers take a fresh look at aging, the show is going to be doomed for its use of age-old gags that haven’t aged well at all.

Larry Carlson of United Methodist Communities is known as a thought leader in the aging services space. He’s always pushed his team and his communities to be more resident-focused and to come up with creative ways to meet their needs. Recently, Larry spent some time in Europe. While there, he visited the world-famous Hogeweyk memory-support community in the Netherlands. Profiled by CNN, Hogeweyk has become a model for dementia care that many American providers have dreamed of reproducing in the States. Its community-based design, open and spacious amenities and focus on daily living have made it a model for the rest of the world.

We took a minute to sit down and chat with Larry about his experience and what he thinks the future of memory-support communities might look like.

Varsity – How did you first hear about Hogeweyk and become interested in the work being done there?

Larry – In 2013, CNN profiled the community in an excellent 20-minute segment. Since then, I’ve always wanted to visit and see the community firsthand. (For reference, here’s a link to that piece https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LwiOBlyWpko&app=desktop.)

Varsity – We know that Hogeweyk is centered on memory-support services. But, it seems it would be difficult to create such an environment for those with severe memory loss.

Larry – On the contrary! Residents don’t come to Hogeweyk because they are just mildly confused. Every person living in the community has a severe memory issue. Forty percent of the residents utilize some kind of mobility assistance. This isn’t a community created for those with onset dementia issues. It’s built to help those that are living with severe dementia.

Varsity – Wow! That’s not what would we would have expected at all. How can they care for such a population in a free and open environment like Hogeweyk?

Larry – Residents live in homes with six or seven other people. There are 23 such homes at Hogeweyk. Each resident has their own bedroom, sharing a kitchen and general living space with others. Team members are only in the homes between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. each day. As the residents move about the community, every team member is there to assess their needs and ensure safety. At night, residents are monitored with advanced technology. Rather than keeping a team member in every home overnight, they utilize microphones to listen for movement and issues, deploying staff as needed.

Varsity – It seems like Hogeweyk takes the idea of ‘person-centered care’ to a whole new level. Can you describe the environment and vibe within the community as you toured?

Larry – While ‘care’ is important, it’s not the most important phrase in the lexicon at Hogeweyk. The entire team is focused on a single mission: ‘normalize life.’ Every team member’s goal is to provide as normal a daily living experience as possible for every resident. If a resident wants to go grocery shopping, help with laundry, clean the house or just go for a walk, they are allowed to do that. No one chases after a resident who wanders away on their own. Within the community, residents are safe and allowed to explore as they like. At Hogeweyk, they care for their residents by ensuring their independence.

Varsity – This sounds like an amazing community but also one that would be a regulatory and risk management nightmare here in the States. How do they handle these issues?

Larry – Communities like Hogeweyk are mostly government funded and heavily regulated. That provides some layer of protection. The Dutch have a saying, ‘Don’t shoot the bear until you see the bear.’ This means that you don’t restrict an activity or area because it could be a problem in the future. For instance, there was a balcony with a regular height handrail. My inner administrator was immediately fearful that someone could fall over such a railing. When I posed this question to my Dutch counterpart, he noted that no one has ever fallen, so why would they change it now? It’s definitely a different mindset than what I’m used to.

Varsity – With this in mind, do you think there’s a way to bring a Hogeweyk-type community to the United States?

Larry – Absolutely! It’s become my goal to do so. We’ve reviewed the staffing requirements and realized that Hogeweyk’s staffing is within a single FTE of the staffing we would provide for a similarly sized community. Also, the monthly cost to reside at Hogeweyk is nearly identical to what UMC charges in many of our communities. Yes, there will be some regulatory hurdles, but the model is completely viable, and we want to make it happen at UMC.

Varsity – Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and thoughts with us and our readers! Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share?

Larry – I really appreciate this opportunity as well! I’d encourage all of my colleagues and counterparts to learn more about Hogeweyk. Even if they can’t create a replica of the services offered, I’d implore them to think beyond person-centered care when it comes to memory support. Think about how you can normalize life for each resident. That simple change in thought process is the first step in the Hogeweyk model.

Do you know what the world’s best-selling album is?

Up until early-September 2018, it was Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” A masterpiece of modern musical artistry, few thought it would be dethroned anytime soon. Then, something unexpected happened: Baby Boomers started buying one of their favorite records — “Their Greatest Hits (1971–1975)” by the Eagles. Suddenly, the King of Pop found himself dethroned by Don Henley and his crew.

It’s been said that musical tastes are solidified in your early 30s. Whatever music you are jamming to during that phase of your life will probably become your sound for decades to come. For Baby Boomers, this means that Paul McCartney, Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, the Bee Gees, Queen and the Who (just to name a few) are most likely responsible for the tunes that most Boomers enjoy. This probably isn’t a surprising idea, but for retirement communities, it can open up a whole new world.

Often, we encounter senior living organizations that want to recruit from the youngest demographic of Baby Boomers — and for good reason! They have plenty of income, will probably be stable residents once they move in and lend an air of vibrancy with their presence. Yet, when we look at the events that communities are using to attract these types of buyers, we find a disconnect. Swing music and big-band acts top the event circuit, when in reality, a Chicago cover band might be more in order.

It’s an important question to ask yourself — are you tailoring your events to the residents that you want, or are you creating events for the residents that are showing up? It’s a “chicken-egg” question, for sure. As senior living marketing professionals, we have to keep our communities filled and functional, so taking a chance on an act or event that appeals to a younger crowd — which might take longer to make a buying decision — can be a hard choice.

We’re not saying that you must change your event plans overnight; rather, we’re advocating for you to think of the big picture. In three to five years, how will your community be engaging with Boomers? What music is playing when they come in the door? Are the activities appealing to the right age demographic? It’s easy for us to get stuck in our day-to-day roles and suddenly find ourselves unable to step back and look ahead.

Source

https://musicmachinery.com/2014/02/13/age-specific-listening/

It’s summertime. You’re visiting your favorite community pool or, perhaps, a waterpark. You choose to take your family to these places because they have trained, supervised lifeguards. Sure, sometimes they are a little young, but it’s an extra layer of safety. As you dip your toe into the water, you look up to the lifeguard’s tower where you find a surprise waiting for you: In the chair, where you would normally find a tanned and lean teen or 20-something sits a woman who could easily be your own mother. She’s obviously in good shape and is keeping an eye on the water, ignoring the shocked look that you surely have on your face.

Water recreation centers around the country are embracing the “grey wave” that has come into their labor force.

A recent article from the Washington Post provides some excellent insight on this topic, but the facts it cites shouldn’t be a surprise. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, fewer teenagers are seeking employment, with only 35 percent of people 16 to 19 holding down a job. That’s down from 52 percent only 20 years ago. The jobs that have been traditionally held by teens are now being subsumed by adult workers — whether they are just trying to make ends meet or are looking for a little extra cash on the side.

If you look at the challenge from the employer side, hiring older adults to fill these positions makes good business sense. They are generally more reliable. They usually have their own transportation. They can work through a whole summer season and don’t need to quit early to return to school. Swimming is also a popular exercise method for older adults, as it is easier on the joints. This means that many older adults are capable swimmers, making them prime candidates for lifeguarding roles. This change from teens to seniors in water safety roles serves as an interesting example of how the labor market is adapting.

Today, teens and 20-somethings are being pulled in many different directions. Where once they were expected to hold down a job, now schools and recruiters are looking for a more diverse extracurricular portfolio. Sure, having a part-time job is important, but don’t forget to play at least one (if not more) sports, participate in student government, engage in some kind of educational activity (such as tutoring younger students) and more. All of these extra activities add up, leaving the student workforce both harder to engage and harder to rely on during peak times.

This is where the older adult workforce is really finding a niche. As younger workers choose to concentrate on schooling or career-building, entry-level service jobs are getting tougher to fill. Older workers are prime candidates for these positions — whether they are unskilled and trying to make it through retirement or are well-off and looking for something different to do after spending 30 years in a fast-paced career. Lifeguarding is just one avenue that Boomers and seniors are taking. At Varsity, we believe that other industries are going to start experiencing a wave of older workers. If they choose to embrace it, it could be great for business. Should they choose to ignore it, they might be drowning in their own shortsightedness.

It’s no secret — I love comic books. I collect everything Batman-themed and find myself inspired by the art and the story of superhero fiction. If you’ve participated in one of our branding presentations, you’ve experienced my passion, as we use Superman and Batman as examples of brand archetypes. I proudly take credit for that analogy!

“But, Rob, what do comic books have to do with aging?” you may ask.

Our favorite superheroes are timeless and never seem to age. Batman and Superman have managed to stay young forever, even though they debuted when my grandparents were children. Recently, however, some comic book writers have begun toying with the idea of what would happen if some of the most well-known superheroes got older.

Let’s start with my favorite superhero of all time: Batman. In “The Dark Knight Returns,” Frank Miller’s classic four-part miniseries, we meet a 55-year-old Bruce Wayne, who comes out of retirement to fight crime. The story may seem a little familiar, as the writers admit to being inspired by the “Dirty Harry” film “Sudden Impact,” released in 1983. Frank Miller has also noted that the story is a reflection of his own experiences with aging. In the book, Batman has to deal with the limitations that aging have caused, all while trying to guide and mentor younger heroes looking to take up a mantle similar to his. So influential was “The Dark Knight Returns” that it has been credited as one of the driving forces that created the Dark Age of Comic Books, characterized by a grim, seedy version of comic realism.

Another hero that everyone knows — and that I enjoy — is Wolverine, of X-Men fame. In 2008, he got his very own aging story, entitled “Old Man Logan.” In this tale, superheroes have been wiped out, and Logan has remained under the radar, hiding his famous claws and superpowers. But, after some urging from Hawkeye, who is now blind, Logan sets out on a cross-country adventure to deliver a package to the new capital of the United States, under the rule of the Red Skull. Throughout the series, Logan and Hawkeye encounter other aged superheroes, struggling to find their place in a world that is only looking to destroy them. It’s another gritty tale that weaves the aging process into a broader story.

The previous two stories posit the question, “What if a superhero aged?” But, in 1996, DC Comics asked a much larger question — one that is suddenly pertinent to the aging services space: What is the “succession plan” for superheroes? The story starts with the Justice League stepping down from their roles as superheroes after the general public endorses a new hero named Magog. Magog isn’t afraid to kill in the name of justice, thus violating the unwritten superhero code of ethics up to this point. This blurring of morality leads to “heroes” causing wonton destruction. Superman and the Justice League return to service to corral the out-of-control heroes, putting the team in conflict with Batman. During Superman’s decade-long absence, Batman has been training the next generation of heroes. The manner in which the now aging Batman and Superman go about training the next generation is a focal point of the story, with both sides making blunders along the way. If you’re going to pick up one comic book series to read, I highly recommend snagging the collected edition of “Kingdom Come.” It’s a fantastic story, with truly outstanding art.

At Varsity, we pride ourselves on having a fresh perspective on aging. Personally, I find it fascinating when unexpected mediums deal with the topic of aging. Yes, sometimes their depictions can be a little cliché, but other times — such as in the comics I mentioned — we get a different look. All of these varied viewpoints keep me refreshed and excited as I take on the challenge of creative development for our clients across the country.

Excelsior!

Last week, part of the Varsity team was in Denver, Colorado attending the “Pioneering a New Culture of Aging” conference hosting by Pioneer Network. It was an excellent event that certainly helped to reshape some of our thoughts around aging. We came away refreshed and invigorated; we are ready to bring forth these new ideas in our work. As we look back on the event, we identified three major points that everyone can benefit from.

1. Collaboration and transparency

The spirit of collaboration and transparency among the “Pioneers” creates an incredibly opportunity for transforming the way we view aging. This event convened a unique mix of aging services professionals. Each person brought with him or her an attitude of activism, directed at making a difference in the aging experience. Theirs is a mindset that promotes a willingness to share best practices in a way too many conferences miss.

2. Substantial shifts required

Often, when we think about change, we view it through a lens of policy and procedure. This event reminded us that culture change initiatives also require substantial shifts in programming, physical environments and mindsets. Our space needs thought leaders from across multiple disciplines, and not just traditional aging services professionals, to impact society’s views on aging.

3. Age of fear

As our friends at Janska displayed their amazing garments during Tuesday night’s fashion show, they reminded us of the importance of treating older adults with dignity. The items were, of course, fabulous – but so were the faces of the residents modeling the garments. Treating aging adults with respect and dignity isn’t as difficult as we sometimes make it seem. Get over your fear of what aging does to the human body and connect emotionally with someone you consider “old.”  You’ll be rewarded in countless ways!

We genuinely enjoyed our time at the conference and heartily recommend this event to anyone who has an interest in aging services. Until next year, we encourage everyone to keep making those subtle, daily improvements that can change how we view aging.

The 2018 LeadingAge Tennessee Annual Conference & Vendor Showcase is now in the books, and it was a great event. Gwyn Earl and her team deserve major kudos for pulling off a fine event. We, at Varsity, were pleased to host the conference Lounge, as well as to exhibit during the Showcase. In between these times, we took the opportunity to check out some of the sessions and engage with our colleagues in the volunteer state. As is tradition here at Varsity, we’ve wanted to look back on three major themes we picked up from the event and share them with all of you who may not have been able to attend.

1. The need for conscious communication has never been greater.

For us, Dr. Donna Van Natten was an excellent addition to the conference line-up. She specializes in nonverbal communication and led a couple of sessions on that topic. Of course, the Varsity team made for easy pickings as she provided examples of both positive and negative nonverbal cues. While this information is great in the business world, it also has major applications for those working directly with residents. Being conscious of your nonverbal communication — and being able to read the nonverbal communication of others — could make the difference between a good interaction and a great one. When was the last time you thought about how the placement of a chair in the room could help someone make an important decision? Dr. Van Natten has, and her excellent session really made us think about our communication strategies.

2. The death of the dining room

Much discussion was had around changes to the dining experiences created by providers. One of this year’s LeadingAge TN Innovation Awards went to a provider that dramatically changed the dining experience for its residents. Gone was the dining room, institution meal trays and bland plate covers. The provider replaced this service with localized dining stations throughout the community, manned by chefs who prepared foods mere steps from residential areas. Now, residents wake up to the smell of bacon sizzling and warm maple syrup, completely changing how they dine. This is a trend that we are seeing nationwide, with more intimate and customizable dining experiences being provided to those in assisted living and higher levels of care. It’s heartwarming to see the changes developed in the independent living space being transferred to other campus areas, as well as the level of impact this is having on resident satisfaction.

3. Retirement as a destination

If you haven’t been to Nashville recently, you may be unaware of how much it has become a tourist destination. One of our Varsity team members described it as the Times Square of the South. This rang especially true as we heard stories from providers describing how new residents were moving great distances to a community in Tennessee. From the Northeast to Los Angeles, people are retiring to Tennessee in droves. While some of these people may not be moving directly into Life Plan Communities, many are opting for 55+ communities that could easily lead to a provider’s doorstep. Tennessee is an especially attractive place for retirement — warm summers, mild winters, beautiful scenery, thriving food scenes and fantastic entertainment options all combine for a great independent retirement lifestyle. This, coupled with the recent influx of young families to the area, could create a retirement boom as older adults decide to move closer to their younger family members. Many providers with which we work rely on the local community within 20 miles of their property for most of their new residents. However, if a campus is appropriately positioned, with some creative marketing, it could go from a regional provider to a national retirement destination.

Once again, we want to thank all of our friends for a great conference experience in Franklin, Tennessee, and we wish all the best to the providers of that great state as they continue to live “Life on Purpose” as members of LeadingAge.

It’s August. The summer temperatures are soaring, and families are working to squeeze in one last vacation before school starts. For us at Varsity, August marks the last leg of the summer conference season. Our team has crisscrossed the country, visiting LeadingAge and aging service conferences from coast to coast. Like you, we learn something new at every one of these events. We also get excited about what the future holds and how we can be part of it. Then, winter rolls in, our daily workload increases, and those big ideas get bogged down in a mental mire from which they rarely return.

In speaking with a colleague, I was asked, “How do you keep yourself and your team inspired and excited long after a LeadingAge conference is over?

It’s a challenge we all struggle with — and one that I’ve been thinking more about since having that question posed.

Perhaps one of the best tactics I’ve used is our series of “takeaway” articles from each event. Sure, they are informative for our clients and friends, but they also provide me with a handy reference to remember what we found most exciting at each event. Over the course of the year, our team keeps track of these takeaways and looks for larger, nationwide trends. Then, as the year closes, with conference season far behind us, we gather and discuss the global trends that we have noticed. We distill the most important points that then become part of our business mindset going forward. For us, regular check-ins like this help to keep the conference energy up and to remind us of what we are excited about.

Therein lies the best and most difficult way to reengage your team members and build their excitement. You have to give them a time and an opportunity to be excited. You need to carve out a half day or a full day of time wherein they can ignore their daily tasks and get excited about the future and share their conference experiences. Doing this three to six months after an event is perfect, as it allows your team members to reflect on what they’ve heard and also see how it relates to your business.

For instance, we recently wrote about hybrid homes here on this blog. This is a concept that first came to us more than a year ago. As we’ve heard more about it, our team has gotten more excited. This excitement has led us to connect and grow our relationship with RLPS Architects. The company’s work helps to drive excitement in our team. Likewise, our marketing abilities help its team understand how the mature market is using the spaces it creates. By coming together to talk about those we serve, we energize each other between major events.

You simply can’t do everything, though. Conferences can offer hundreds of great, innovative ideas, but the reality is that most organizations can only handle one, maybe two, of these ideas at a time. By engaging with your team members and letting them decide which idea excites them most — and figuring out how to execute that idea — you can really keep the conference energy flowing through personal buy-in.

Over the next few weeks, our team is hitting the road for Florida, Colorado and Tennessee — you can be sure that we’ll be posting takeaways from all of these events. Just like you, we are working to harness these ideas to build our team, with the plan to better serve our clients, and through them, their residents.

A conference is a once-a-year event. It’s up to you to harness that excitement and energy for the remainder of the year to inspire your team.

During 2018, we have undertaken an ongoing blog series in which we take a look at the opportunities and challenges faced by the diverse groups of Boomers and seniors being served by today’s aging services providers.

For our first article in the series, we examined a rapidly growing population in the United States — Latino Boomers and seniors. In our second article, we looked at the changes that LGBT seniors are driving in the marketplace.

In this, our third article, we talk about America’s largest growing ethnic demographic – Asians.

If you were to walk into an average not-for-profit Life Plan Community in America, you would likely not find a large population of Asian-Americans. They are conspicuously absent on most campuses, even as other ethnic groups grow and prosper. Many Life Plan Communities now openly celebrate and welcome diversity, yet we continue to see low numbers of Asians moving to senior living communities. This leads us to wonder: Why is this the case, and what could a smart aging services organization do to tap into this market?

According to the latest Pew Research numbers, the Asian population in America has grown by 72 percent since the year 2000. That growth rate is faster than any other ethnicity, including Hispanics. However, as Westerners, we need to remember just how diverse the Asian population actually is. China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam are the most well-known countries of origin, but the largest growth is coming from lesser-known nations, such as Nepal, Burma, Laos and Bhutan. The cultures of these countries are incredibly diverse, yet in America, they all get lumped into one category: Asian. Aging services providers need to keep this in mind if they wish to tap into this market. Becoming educated about lesser-known Asian cultures — especially those who are providers in or near large cities — could create a profitable niche market for communities.

Of course, there are other challenges that a study of geography and culture can’t address. For instance, it is widely known that Asian families place a great deal of value on children caring for their parents as they age. Children are expected to welcome their parents into their homes if need be, or to stay with them if they require additional attention and care. Culturally, this is what is expected of the family, and there can be great shame placed upon a child that does not appropriately fulfill his or her filial duties.

Obviously, this is in stark contrast to the types of living options offered by retirement communities, making it a hard sell for many Asian families; however, cultural expectations and perceptions are changing. In China, for instance, nursing care is becoming more common because of the one-child-per-family policy. It is very difficult for a single child to care for two aging parents. The focus is shifting away from being personally responsible for caring for one’s parents to planning and funding their care by others. In this case, the child is still fulfilling his or her duties by providing for the parents — even if not by doing it him or herself.

This model is important for western providers to keep in mind as they market to the Asian population. There are still strong culture mores in place surrounding parents and aging. If your organization can find a way to creatively address this issue and reach into the Asian market, you’ll be way ahead of your competitors. This is exactly what Aegis Living is doing in Seattle.

In 2017, Aegis realized that there was a huge, untapped market for senior living services that catered to Asians. Its new community, called Aegis Gardens, sits at the epicenter of the Asian population in Washington, with more 90,000 Asian Americans living within 25 miles of the campus. Aegis is designing the community with Asian aesthesis in mind, including hiring a feng shui expert to help in the planning. The community is going to be a high-end marvel, dedicated to reaching a niche market that is being underserved.

This idea will not work everywhere, however. In today’s market, there is great value placed on luxury branded products. While the Seattle market might be able to support a luxury Asian-inspired community, most Asian-Americans cannot afford luxury. According to a 2017 Huffington Post article, Asian-Americans are roughly 1.5 times more likely to be classified as poor than are their Caucasian peers. Between 2009 and 2014, just as the Asian population was booming, so, too, were their poverty rates — which shot up 40 percent in this five-year period. This is why affordable housing developers are also eying the Asian market.

Not far from the luxury Aegis community in Seattle, a nonprofit named Kin On is expanding its presence. Kin On also focuses on Asian-Americans, choosing affordability and care over luxury. The community has existed for more than 30 years and now has a thriving population of Asian residents. Kin On ensures a mix of staff members that can speak Asian languages and provides Asian-inspired meal choices and activities that specifically appeal to the culture. As a not-for-profit community, Kin On concentrates on providing great care to residents that may not have other culturally appropriate options.

We don’t expect aging services providers to go out and develop completely new model communities that cater to a small niche population — especially if their locality doesn’t have one — however, just as with our other articles in this series, we think it behooves providers to get educated about diversity and provide more than the just the base level of cultural understanding.

 

Sources:

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/09/08/key-facts-about-asian-americans/

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/25/what-other-cultures-can-teach_n_4834228.html

https://www.voanews.com/a/asian-americans-turn-to-retirement-homes-for-elders/2955452.html

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/elderly-asians-almost-15-times-more-likely-to-be_us_589ccaa5e4b061551b3e089a